Blog series created by Petty Officer 2nd Class Courtney Myers.
This is the 15th 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.
Please describe your daily duties.
I am the navigator of Coast Guard Cutter Healy. This entails overseeing the safe navigation of the cutter, the management of the bridge and the watches stood there as well as standing watch as a Deck Watch Officer (DWO). It also includes training personnel as helm/lookout, Quartermaster of the Watch, and DWOs, as well as customs and courtesies, basic navigation, flag display and celestial navigation.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
There are too many fantastic memories to classify just one as the most memorable. But something that meant a lot to me during my career so far was having my entire family in attendance at my first and last change of command ceremonies. Having them there when I took command for the first time and then again being there when I completed my last command tour, celebrating those achievements with me, was so meaningful. Their never-ending support has been tremendous and has had an immeasurable impact on my career.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Healy’s unique mission is one of the many reasons this particular job is exciting. For instance, we are required to keep the cutter stationary in the turbulent Arctic Ocean during certain science missions while the deck crew deploys equipment over the side. It is challenging to keep the largest cutter in the fleet on station in heavy weather, sometimes with only rudder and helm commands. It’s one of the aspects of this job I really enjoy. Then you add in that we are assisting the science community with their discoveries that have a global impact – that’s pretty cool, too.
Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what made you keep pushing?
Quite a few times over many years. It’s easy to get frustrated when things get challenging, and with anything that you are passionate about, there will be challenges and conflicts. I realized that a few of those issues were based on how I reacted or my outlook. If I made a change to better myself, it could help with that particular situation. The times where that didn’t have an impact, I tried to remember that each situation will only last a short period of time and tried to stay positive. My elation for serving and the accomplishments I have made so far have made a greater impact on me than the thought of giving up. Has it been difficult? Yes. But anything worth while usually is.
Do you feel as though you have faced obstacles that your male counterparts have not?
I have, and here are a few examples. I have conducted boardings where the people aboard the vessel would not speak with me, even though I was the boarding officer; based on their culture and that I was a woman. I was once told that I could not participate in a high profile boarding because the command wasn’t sure there were “proper facilities” on the 400 foot freighter for a female (I still went on that boarding after pleading my case). During transfer seasons earlier in my career I was limited to a handful of cutters where my male counterparts could pick from everything on the list. One transfer season, three 110′ cutters (out of the four overall that had female berthing) were open, while there were 22 available to the males. I did not get orders to any of those 110’s. Another season, I was told I had to verify which 87′ could take a female XPO for berthing purposes, again, limited to a handful on the available list. While in command, I was once asked by a reporter if I felt I had to “live up to the standards” of my male counterparts. I replied “No, they should want to live up to my standards.” They assumed that as a woman, I was automatically at a lower standard.
Some have been legitimate logistical issues, such as the female berthing, but it was still frustrating to be limited. However, the obstacles based on preconceived notions are disheartening. I know females are not the only ones facing obstacles, but yes, I’ve faced quite a few in my career.
Do you have a hobby that you enjoy outside of work? If so, please explain.
Earlier in my career, I had a hard time balancing work and life; I just spent my time at work. I realized that I had to do something outside of the Coast Guard so I took up a lot of different hobbies over the years. I also learned that my hobbies helped me through those times when work became frustrating.
I workout and run. That keeps me healthy and helps me train for obstacle course racing, such as Spartan Races, which I thoroughly enjoy. Running over 13 miles and overcoming 30+ obstacles in a race is a huge motivator and reminds me that if I can overcome those physical obstacles, I can overcome the mental and emotional obstacles in my professional life as well. I enjoy rebuilding my Jeep. I golf. I geocache. Recently I joined a local rock climbing gym. I try to pick up a new hobby at each unit/location.
Is there anything particular you do outside of your Coast Guard service to maintain your personal identity?
The majority of my life I have been in the Coast Guard. After 21+ years in this organization, it’s reasonable to understand that parts of my identity and personality were shaped by this service, and I’m proud of that. However, by participating in the hobbies already mentioned, that helps me maintain my “non-uniform wearing” persona. Other things I do: I go camping. I attend sporting events with friends and family. I hang out with neighbors that don’t understand my office chatter, so there is no reason to discuss work. I visit my nephew as much as possible to fill the important role of Auntie and leave the role of Master Chief on the cutter. I leave work at work.
What advice would you give to young women thinking about joining the service?
If it’s right for you, join! You’ll receive diverse training that will expand your horizons outside of the Coast Guard, whether you stay in for four or 20 years. You can see parts of the world that most people don’t have the opportunity to visit. You will build relationships that will last your lifetime! Yes, there will be challenges and obstacles, but by overcoming those challenges, you will build a stronger “YOU” and find out who you truly are! You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone except yourself. There might be people who don’t want to see you succeed, and there will be others who just don’t care if you succeed. It’s not their life, so succeed for yourself. Find the silver lining in the worst tasking because there are some tasks that aren’t pleasant, but we’ve all had to do them at some point. Don’t be afraid to be the only “one” in your crew/office/division/class. There is only one of you in the world, so what does it matter in a smaller setting? Know that your hard work and a positive attitude are the top two things that will help you succeed.
Actually, I don’t think any of that was specific to young women, just helpful advice to anyone thinking of joining.
What is the most valuable lesson the Coast Guard has taught you in regards to leadership?
I have learned that leadership, no matter what your style, must change and adapt to the dynamic environment you are currently in. No crew, unit, office, etc., is the same. There are key points to leading that should always be maintained, however, you have to be able to adjust to those whom you lead. It might be difficult to realize this or even find the proper adjustment, but if those who you are supposed to lead don’t want to follow, then that leadership is pointless.
Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you go about choosing this individual?
I have had a few mentors. My old QM1 (quartermaster 1st class) on my first cutter who taught me how to be a quartermaster. He was as salty as they came. Ship handling was an art to him, and made me want to be able to do what he did as well as he did it. Another one was my officer in charge on the first patrol boat I served on. Again, salty as they came, and had the best attitude as to how a cutter should be managed; serve the public instead of being tasked to serve, do it right, don’t cut corners. Because of him, I aspired to be an officer in charge. Finally, my first female commanding officer who demonstrated that she can be a classy woman, show emotions, and still have the utmost respect of her unit. I didn’t necessarily choose them, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve with and observe them.
Please share your favorite sea story (that you wouldn’t mind being published).
Again, too many great stories to pick from, but here is a fairly recent one from my last unit. A crew of an 87-foot cutter only has 10 to 12 people, with everyone standing some type of a watch underway, usually in a 1:3 or 1:4 rotation. When you are down one or two people and add in extra tasking, everyone aboard gets pulled thin.
While conducting a fisheries patrol, we were asked by the local air station to conduct helo ops that evening for nighttime currencies. We agreed and worked with two helicopters, training for a couple hours. Immediately after the hoists, we saw two commercial fishing vessels and the crew agreed we should attempt to board them since fishing vessels had been scarce. We boarded the boat closest to us, which, due to multiple safety violations, led to a voyage termination. The escort of the vessel lasted over 12 hours, ending in a narrow and shallow bayou we had never transited before. It is now afternoon and we started transiting back to where we started. Two hours later we received a call that a pleasure craft was disabled south of the commercial port we just left the commercial fishing vessel. The distressed vessel put out their anchor, but it was dragging due to the diminishing weather and they were heading toward the oil rigs. We immediately turned around, made best speed and arrived on scene at sunset with the vessel only a couple hundred yards from a rig. The crew set up the deck, we briefed, and the tow was perfectly executed albeit the heavy weather. We took them toward the commercial port and transferred the tow to the small boat station. Because it was a small commercial port, there was no room for us to moor or anchor for the night. We had to cross the gulf again, which had significantly worsened, and transit up the river a few hours to get to a protected area, making for yet another long evening. Early in the morning, with the tired crew manning their billets, we anchored for the remainder of the day. Switching from training, law enforcement, search and rescue, all while maintaining the cutter’s watches during non-stop operations for nearly two days straight proved to be challenging, yet exciting. I was so proud of the crew; they did it safely, professionally and all without complaint.
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?
Relax, ask questions and write things down immediately. The first few months at any new unit are difficult. It doesn’t matter how many units you have been to, it will always be difficult. Qualifications have to be earned, crew have to be understood, local area has to be figured out. No two units are the same, so it will be a learning process each time. So again, relax, ask questions and write things down.
Are you in search of a mentor, additional leadership or just a push in the right direction? Do you have rating questions and need a brain to pick? If so, BMCM Martynowski is interested in being a mentor and invites you to ask questions and share your experience. She can be reached via Global.