Blog series created by YN2 Courtney Myers
This is the ninth 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.
I am the Household Goods (HHG) and Transportation Officer for Base Elizabeth City in North Carolina, and, as such, I handle all household goods for transferring, retiring, and separating DoD members in Northeastern North Carolina. As a member of the Base Elizabeth City Personnel and Administration team, I have the opportunity to assist in many other administrative functions, as well. I am also a site security manager for the DEERS office and unit authorizing official. I am also a Base Elizabeth City Lay Leader and Assistant Volunteer Coordinator for the Base Elizabeth City Complex.
Aside from my Coast Guard daily duties, I am also the Coast Guard Enlisted Association National Treasurer and Social Media Chairperson.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
In 2015, I was the recipient of the American Legion Spirit of Service Award for the Coast Guard. My husband and I were honorees at the American Legion National Convention in Baltimore, MD. On the opening day of the convention, I had to get up in front of 7,000 veterans, on a nationally televised stage, to accept my award and give a short speech. As my name and bio was announced, I stood up to shake the hands of the American Legion National Commander, Michael Helm, and Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts. As I approached Staff Sgt Pitts, I suddenly felt empowered and not nervous. His sacrifice overwhelmed me. This was my chance to honor him and veterans like him in my speech. As I stepped up to the podium that became the most important thing and it was the one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
As a yeoman, I love to interact with and get to know my members. Developing their trust in your ability to do a good job starts with open communication. There is nothing more satisfying to my workday than receiving a call from a member that I assisted two tours ago, who needs assistance. That’s when you know that you are living up to the Yeoman Guiding Principles.
Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what made you keep pushing?
Schedules to care for our two children has been so challenging at times I considered separating from the Coast Guard. If it were not for a great chief telling me, “If I could figure it out, then you can figure it out,” I might have separated. Thinking outside of the box is imperative as a dual military couple. You never know if service needs will separate you, or if your tours will align, so it’s important to be flexible in your expectations and always plan ahead.
Do you feel as though you have faced obstacles that your male counterparts have not?
I think that the main obstacle I have faced as a woman in the military is the outside expectation that I will be the main caregiver for our children. Military life is very demanding and accepting the fact that I, as a mother, have to go against my southern rooted societal beliefs that I am that main caregiver and rely on my husband to share the parent role equally, was very difficult in the beginning of my military career.
Do you have a hobby that you enjoy outside of work? If so, please explain.
My family and I regularly camp throughout the Mid-Atlantic. It gives us a chance to spend time outside of our busy lives, away from electronics and distractions. We have a small camper, so we have modern luxuries, but without distractions, we have the opportunity to talk a lot, play games, and sightsee.
Is there anything particular you do outside of your Coast Guard service to maintain your personal identity?
I grew up in a family that is full of volunteerism. As a small child my sisters and I would volunteer with our mother, so it’s part of our identity to help others. I have always volunteered in the communities that we live in and now my children and husband accompany me. My volunteer passion is food-insecurity, so when I first arrived at Base Elizabeth City, I worked through the local branch of the Coast Guard Enlisted Association (CGEA) to open the first ever CGEA Food Pantry to assist Base families in emergency food need. I also serve on the Board of Directors for our local food bank.
I am a mother of two beautiful Coastie kids; Sophia (8) and Paxton (4). My husband, Justin, is also Coast Guard enlisted (AMT2). I think that is the only thing that makes being a military mom difficult. Balancing our duty schedules to care for the children often requires sacrificing our time as a whole family. We just do our best to create as much stability in our children’s lives as we can. Our 8-year-old has changed schools/homes six times in her life and it’s difficult to see her start over at new places, but we have always worked hard at getting her excited about new places we will be living and we keep in contact with her friends to ease the transition.
What advice would you give to young women thinking about joining the service?
I would tell any young woman considering military service the same thing that I would tell a young man: Service to our country is one of the greatest honors that I have had in my life and the decision to serve cannot be taken lightly. Military life is unique in that you have to reinvent your idea of stability. You will be moved, at minimum, every four years and you may be placed in locations that you might find unappealing and you may be put in situations that are difficult, but military service is what you make of it. If you are truly dedicated to service to our country, you will be happy no matter what situation arises.
I joined the Coast Guard at the age of 29, having already attended college, ran my own business, and managed a few businesses. The leadership style that I had developed in the civilian world is 100 percent different than what I have experienced in the Coast Guard, but one thing is resoundingly similar: there are good and bad leaders and commitment to developing your leadership skills is the determining factor in your ability to lead well. I have been very blessed to experience both good and poor leaders in the Coast Guard because I have examples of both what kind of leader I would like to be and what I do not want to be. The best leadership I have seen in this organization stemmed from the unique ability for those in leadership positions to be transparent and communicative with those at even the deck plate level.
If you have used Tuition Assistance, please tell us about your experience.
I began using Tuition Assistance nine months after graduating from boot camp for my master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling at Liberty University Seminary. I found it was easy to complete the process for Tuition Assistance. Not long after beginning my master’s program, TA was disallowed for Post-Graduate degrees and I dropped out of school, unable to afford it and unwilling to dip into my GI Bill that is meant for my children. As soon as Post-Graduate allowances came back, I enrolled again and am on track to graduate in 2018.
I actually have two mentors. I chose one within my rate and one outside of my rate. I have always chosen mentors based on two things: (1) Can they be brutally honest with me? (2) Have they had professional/personal experiences that are similar to my struggles/successes? My in-rate mentor I heavily rely on to assist me with Servicewide study techniques, so having someone in that role that learns similarly to me and tests well is imperative.
Please share your favorite sea story (that you wouldn’t mind being published).
In my first year at Base Elizabeth City I became the Coast Guard Enlisted Association Elizabeth City Branch President. After taking over, we immediately launched an overwhelming amount of initiatives to assist Coasties, their families, and our community. I proposed that we do a Thanksgiving Basket giveaway to junior enlisted families in need. We used the CMC network to identify those who would need this assistance and the response was eight families. This was very doable with what funds we had raised to do the baskets. Then, after the deadline, and one day before we were going to purchase the food items, our number of requests jumped to 21. We were $800 short. Our Chief’s Mess and Ward Rooms rallied and were able to collect enough donations to purchase all the needed food items. The moral of the story is to always have faith and amazing things can happen!
If there was one thing you wish you would have known when you reported to your first unit that you know now, what would it be?
Everywhere you go in the Coast Guard is completely different. You will have duty stations that you love and you will have duty stations where you will struggle. The most important thing is to look for the life’s lessons in both cases. When you struggle, speak up. The Coast Guard is full of amazing people who can get you on the right path for your career.