Enlisted Empowerment—The Female Perspective: SK1 Amanda Distasio

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Blog series created by YN2 Courtney Myers

This is the fifth in a series of Q&A blog posts highlighting enlisted female leaders serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Be sure to check back monthly for more career insight, mentorship and inspiration.

SK1 Amanda Distasio with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell
SK1 Amanda Distasio with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

The most memorable moment in my career was when I got to plan the first women’s leadership symposium for District Thirteen. Never in a million years did I think I would be able to tackle such an extensive project, nor could I picture my command giving support for standing up such an immeasurable event, but quickly learned I was in for the shock of my life. I pitched the idea to my Sector Command Senior Chief (CSC) along with sharing success stories of these types of events, and to my surprise, my Sector CSC and Command were my number one advocates. It wasn’t long afterward that I started planning the symposium. Word made its way to the District, which turned it from a Sector event into a District-wide event. I had the pleasure of teaming up with District staff and the end product was the first District Thirteen Women’s Leadership Symposium. This symposium was the first time I was able to pitch an idea and see it all the way through. Coming up in the ranks, I always felt my voice went unheard, but this was real life proof that with the right idea and some awesome people to support you, the possibilities are endless. This was an example of leading through innovation at its finest.

Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what made you keep pushing?

One particular time that I felt like giving up was when I was competing to become a petty officer first class. I loved being a second class, but I needed to start moving up the promotion ladder before it was too late and I would be stuck facing high-year tenure. I competed several times in the Service Wide Exam (SWE) and was scoring average without studying. Finally, I realized that in order to get the promotion I wanted, I needed to study. I hit the books and my score started increasing. I kept my fingers crossed every time I viewed the message board. I would see the revision messages constantly thinking that maybe my name would be on the cut. To my dismay, the cut never went deep enough to capture my name. There was one particular time that the cut was one above my name and my heart sank into my stomach. At that point, I was completely burned out of taking the SWE and I felt like giving up because I didn’t know any better ways to study. I threw away all my highlighted SWE lists that I used to track the names of those that were ahead of me and didn’t crack open a book for months. I thank my mentor to this day for giving me the much needed pep talk that lifted my spirits and pulled me out of my funk. Before I knew it, I was able to pin on my first class chevrons, and I wear them proudly.

CGEA and CPOA join to present a $15,000 check to a 6-year-old girl in need of a service dog
CGEA and CPOA join to present a $15,000 check to a 6-year-old girl in need of a service dog

Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you go about choosing this individual?

My mentor is neither the same gender nor the same rate as me. My mentor is a master chief operations specialist with 25 years in the Coast Guard. I first met my mentor when I reported to Station Grays Harbor. He was the Command Senior Chief for my Sector and now the Command Master Chief (CMC) for my District. He was the one who supported the Women’s Leadership Symposium and helped me see it through. From that point on, we formed a relationship that I have never experienced in my career. I didn’t choose him per se; it just happened. I could talk to him about Coast Guard related topics as well as getting parenting advice. The best and worst part is when I hit a bump in the road; he was the first person to tell me that I made a bad decision. I feared that my mentor would have chosen to abandon me when times got tough, but instead stuck around to steer me back on a positive path. If he reads this, I hope he knows how much I truly appreciate him and the relationship we have. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for my mentor.

SK1 Amanda Distasio on the rock climbing wall
SK1 Amanda Distasio on the rock climbing wall

Do you have a hobby that you enjoy outside of work? If so, please explain.

I have many hobbies. I love indoor rock wall climbing, cross fit, cardio kickboxing, and traveling the most. If I had to pick my top, I would say it is cross fit, hands down. I was recently introduced to Olympic lifting and the cross fit work out; it was almost an immediate love-hate relationship. I feel that not only am I gaining muscular strength, I am also gaining confidence and learning how to not mentally hold myself back. My coach has a saying: “Live Mentally Tough.” It sums up my own beliefs that a strong mind equals a strong body. 

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is the continuous customer interaction. I am a people person by nature and being a Storekeeper sounded like the best fit for my professional needs and my personality. I was right when picking my rating and have yet to be let down on being able to have opportunities to communicate with others. As Base Ketchikan’s Port Services Petty Officer (PSPO), I get to converse with visiting boats and cutters that moor here throughout the year. I am very grateful for the unique and very rewarding opportunities I have had in this position. Not only am I dealing with local Coast Guard units, but I also get to work with visiting cutters and other agencies.

What are your daily responsibilities?

My daily duties include: Regional Motor Fleet Manager for Southeast Alaska, encompassing acquiring and returning GVs to GSA, license plate requests, and GV repairs; Port Services Representative, which includes response to LOGREQ’s, GV request fulfillment, and facilities service request fulfillment; creation of obligation documents for all freight forwarding shipments; shipping and receiving operations to include forklift operations.

SK1 Amanda Distasio and others participate in a team building exercise at Base Ketchikan
SK1 Amanda Distasio and others participate in a team building exercise at Base Ketchikan

Are you a mother? If so, do you ever find it difficult to balance mom life and operational life?

I am a mother to a wonderful 13-year-old boy, Christopher. Christopher is my pride and joy, a true reflection of who I am and a whole lot of what I’m not. I didn’t choose an operational rate, so finding balance in my profession and mom life has been a little bit easier than others. However, I took on a role of being the District’s Diversity and Inclusion trainer, and with that duty I have been required to travel a lot in the past few years. On top of being a trainer, I signed up for the Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer’s Academy, which required my attendance for six weeks. The academic portion was a challenge, but the toughest part was being away from my son for such an extended amount of time. My family only consists of me and my son, so when I am required to travel it’s very disheartening to leave him behind. I have learned that as my son gets older time away gets easier.

SK1 Amanda Distasio and her son, Christopher
SK1 Amanda Distasio and her son, Christopher

Is there anything particular you do outside of your Coast Guard service to maintain your personal identity?

Maintaining my personal identity is a struggle for me because I’ve been stationed in so many small towns. When I get involved in the community, I am often labeled as “the girl in the Coast Guard.” I can’t count how many times I have said, “I just want to be Amanda” because I felt there was so much more to me than just being in the Coast Guard. I think, through all the years, I have learned to accept that being labeled as the Coast Guard girl is a title that is something to be proud of.

What advice would you give to young women thinking of joining the service?

SK1 Amanda Distasio receiving her graduation certificate from Air Force Non-Commissioned Officers Academy
SK1 Amanda Distasio receiving her graduation certificate from Air Force Non-Commissioned Officers Academy

Do it!!!! Joining the Coast Guard was the best decision I have made in my life. The way I look at it is that it is a short four to six years of your life that will give you a lifetime of skills and maturity. Regardless if you stay in or become a civilian, the military ingrains you with structure and discipline along with personal and professional skills that will help you in your future. I would pass this message to not only women, but also to men who are considering joining.

What’s your favorite sea story (that you wouldn’t mind being published)?

I don’t have a juicy sea story to share, but there was an experience that I had while stationed on my first cutter out of boot camp. I was a non-rate on a 175-foot buoy tender, and deck work was my trade. We just placed a nice clean buoy and our captain granted a swim call to cool down and let loose after a long hot day of work. I thought I was a highly skilled Olympic diver and decided it would be a good idea to dive off the side of the bow into the water. What a bad idea!! I am NOT an Olympic diver and it was evident. I didn’t keep my hands in the proper position and my head smacked the top of the water. I imagine that it’s comparable to a cartoon character smashing into a concrete block after jumping from a power line or roof. I was so embarrassed and in so much pain that I stayed under the water and waded around a little bit before coming up to hear everyone ask me, “Did that hurt?” Of course, I said “No!”

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