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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Aug. 31, 2020

Build a better bookshelf: The 2020 USCG Professional Development Reading List

By Janki Patel, MyCG Writers

The New York Times bestselling cookbook, “Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking,” might seem an unusual choice for the Coast Guard’s annual professional development reading list. But the book “helped me disconnect from a demanding staff assignment,” explains Lt. Austin Fullmer, in the Ninth District. “If being able to roast a whole buttermilk chicken on my own doesn’t signify personal growth, I don’t know what does!”

This year junior members from across the Service contributed their ideas to help develop the leadership reading list.

Take Nathaniel Fick’s “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer,” recommended by Cadet 1st Class Leah Schweigert-Opas at the Coast Guard Academy. The memoir by a recon platoon leader in Afghanistan reveals the crushing pressure experienced by young military leaders. It’s a “wonderful study on being an emotionally intelligent junior officer, and a conscientious leader at the deck-plate level,” said Schweigert-Opas.

Of course there are nonfiction battle stories, like “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors,” by James D. Hornfischer about the Navy’s remarkable victory using “tin can” escort ships to defeat a much larger Japanese fleet in the Battle of Samar during WWII. Some great books by Coast Guard members also made this year’s list, like “Not Your Father’s Coast Guard: The Untold Story of U.S. Coast Guard Special Forces,” by Mathew Mitchell. 

But what sticks out most is members’ focus on developing emotional intelligence in order to become a stronger leader. This year, you’ll find books about starting challenging conversations, the benefits of women’s voices in leadership, and the consequences when commanders let personal relationships get in the way of performance.

“In previous years, nearly all reading list submissions were recommended by officers, senior enlisted members, and civilians,” said Michelle Smith, of the Office of Leadership (CG-128), who is in charge of compiling the list. This year, she turned to O3s and below, E5s and below, GS-9s and below, officer candidates and Academy cadets. The effort was meant to inspire a collection of resources for those still growing within their ratings and careers.

“The books, podcasts, and other media recommended from junior members of the Coast Guard provide a unique viewpoint of how our shipmates and leaders of tomorrow are gaining personal and intellectual growth and leadership skills,” Smith said.

You can access most of the Professional Development Reading List books and podcasts for free through the Navy Overdrive program at