Blog series created by YN2 Courtney Myers
This is the sixth 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.
My daily duties are responding to pollution incidents, examining commercial fishing vessels, inspecting waterfront facilities, and developing three subordinates in my shop.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
My favorite duty was performing funeral honors while stationed in Detroit. I was given the honor of folding the flag for both a SPAR (some of the first women to serve in the Coast Guard) and a Tuskegee Airman. I learned about their stories from their families and I was able to see the continuum that began with those pioneers; how the Coast Guard continued to influence their lives even after their service was over, and how they laid down the bricks that we walk on today. It was really humbling and touching to be able to be a part of that.
My favorite thing about my job is getting to work with so many different and diverse types of people. I get to work with the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), state environmental departments, industry workers, and everyday civilians. I learn more about the communities we live in through those interactions than I could have ever predicted when I joined.
Do you feel as though you have faced obstacles that your male counterparts have not?
I know that I have. There are the obvious obstacles such as pregnancy and breastfeeding; however, there are also the less obvious, people treating you different or not being offered the same opportunities – most of the time completely unintentionally. You face significant bias, more so in some rates than in others. It’s a fact of life that women face an uphill battle, against forces that are largely unconscious; however, this is true everywhere. What I love is that, in the Coast Guard, we have paths to follow to address it, to improve it, and there is an obvious effort by nearly everyone to improve and move beyond our ingrained biases.
The majority of my time outside of work is occupied by activities with my children. I also make a point to carve out at least an hour a day for running, working out, or some kind of art. I really value maintaining my health and connecting with my creative side.
Is there anything particular you do outside of your Coast Guard service to maintain your personal identity?
When I joined, I was worried about the uniformity of everything erasing my identity and making it harder to be myself. What I actually found was that stripping away that external persona helped my true self shine through. Now I care less about what a person looks like and more about what their actions are than I ever had before. It helps you to see a person through their character, their actions, and their impact. That said, one thing that is critically important for me is maintaining a connection with nature. I try to take time to go out hiking or camping when I can and I like to draw and photograph insects and birds in particular. Thankfully, observing nature and staying connected with the world around us is something I can do in or out of uniform.
I’m a single mom of two, with special needs – so – yes I find it difficult all the time. I have to pay more than most for adequate care to cover watch. I am regularly pulled from work to go respond to problems with my kids. I don’t have the same flexibility for travel or after work activities so, I have to adapt to that. The time where it is easy for me to be available, I mentally carve out for the Coast Guard. That way I can still put in additional hours, helping others or taking on those inevitable extra duties that turn up. I also have to aggressively build my network to get adequate sitters and help to sustain my life. It’s hard but it is very rewarding in the end. Although I face additional challenges with the coast Guard, most of them are ones I would face in the civilian side too. The benefits, missions, and adventure make it worth it.
What advice would you give to young women thinking about joining the service?
You have a place here and we need you. The benefits, the experience, the adventure, the camaraderie are second to none. All that, and you get significant professional experience and opportunities. Plus, my experience is that you are more protected and supported when it comes to the standard barriers women and other minorities experience in the workplace. It’s there, and we have room to grow – but the more women we have cutting their leadership teeth, the better the Coast Guard becomes for the next generation of Coast Guard women. I think it’s one of the best opportunities out there.
I think the lesson that resonates with me the most is the value of other people’s time and energy, of building relationships, and being comfortable with transactional relationships. Essentially, the Coast Guard has taught me to be more conscious of the impact I have on others, whether it is direct or indirect. If I am asking someone for assistance, I understand that if they accept they are spending their own time and energy to help me. Likewise, I have come to understand that even the smallest actions we do can have a resonating impact on the people that see us. We are examples whether we want to be or not.
What has been your experience with Tuition Assistance?
Tuition assistance allowed me to finish my bachelor degree and I am one class away from my masters. It has been an invaluable tool and has set me up to be more competitive both within and outside of the Coast Guard.
I have many mentors. I would say that most of them formed naturally, but I don’t think that does the interaction justice. You have to put yourself out there and talk to people. Put aside anxieties and ask questions. People love talking about themselves and inviting someone to do that not only builds relationships, it gives you insight into how others operate their lives. I think to get mentors, especially as a female, you have to be disciplined about putting yourself out there, being open, talking to people. People get a great enjoyment from both helping others and talking with others. Don’t sell yourself short by thinking people don’t want to know about you. But just as important, show interest in the people you meet that you respect. I like to approach the people whose leadership styles I admire because I know I can learn from them.
What’s your favorite sea story (that you wouldn’t mind being published)?
My favorite stories are always from chasing oil with a well-seasoned team. When we know what to do, and we understand each other, even the most strenuous cases become enjoyable. One of my favorite parts is when we get to team up with other agencies, see their procedures, collaborate on plans, and learn about their backgrounds.