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My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 29, 2021

Women of the Coast Guard share stories of service, mentorship, leadership 

By Patrick Ferraris, Coast Guard Office of Civil Rights 

March is Women’s History Month. This observance stands as a reminder of the strength that the Coast Guard has gained through the contributions and efforts of our women members who serve as part of an exceptional and diverse workforce. This series of interviews highlights just a few of the remarkable women in the Coast Guard and the stories behind their service.  

Lt. Tia Grandville walks down the hall of Gilliard Elementary School with a student. Grandville also acts a Partnership in Education Coordinator in Sector Mobile, Mobile, Alabama.Name: Lt. Tia Grandville 
Duty Title: Marine Casualty Investigator 
Duty Location: Sector Mobile, Mobile, Alabama 
What inspired you to join the Coast Guard? 
I come from a family of military service men and women, as well as community service leaders, so I have always had a passion to serve and give back. However, it wasn’t until college when I learned about the Coast Guard, or what I like to refer to as the “Armed Forces Best Kept Secret.” I attended Spelman College’s annual career fair and came across the Coast Guard table, spoke with the recruiters and instantly became intrigued. Further, learning about the many other Spelman women and Black women who have and are currently making an impact in this organization just inspired me even more. To know how diverse the Coast Guard is and knowing what these women have accomplished, I knew I wanted to be a part of that.  
What is meaningful to you about currently serving in the Coast Guard? 
Being a woman, and specifically a Black woman, in the Service is very special right now. During my nine years in the Service, I have seen an increase in women recruitment, more diverse Coast Guard Academy and Officer Candidate School graduating classes, Black women attaining the rank of captain, the commissioning of a cutter named after the first African American female master chief petty officer, revising the grooming standards to be more inclusive, and so much more. Women are playing increasingly important roles in the Service I love to see this shift happening. The Coast Guard is also special in the sense that women can join and choose whatever rating they desire. Seeing all of the women in leadership roles and those who are making an impact will only draw in even more passionate and dedicated women in the future. Lastly, I appreciate the Coast Guard’s various policy updates and the RAND studies for identifying and addressing ways in which we can retain these phenomenal women.  
What does the phrase “Stronger Together” mean to you? 
As a woman, a Black woman, and a mother, the phrase “Stronger Together” means so much. Ultimately, it means that it takes a village – it takes the support of each member to work together in order for our Coast Guard to be the best it can be. First, it is important to recognize the gender diversity within the Coast Guard and understand that the support from our male shipmates plays a pivotal role in addressing gender inequity and unleashing the potential of women to be change makers. I would charge our male counterparts to support us and help amplify our voices, encourage our ambitions, and give us credit when it’s due. It is also important to recognize and understand (or learn to understand) the challenges our underrepresented members face. Currently, there is so much discussion about systemic discrimination, racism, extremism, and sexism within the military; in order for us to be “Stronger Together,” members and leaders must take action and invoke change.  
Do you have a mentor who has inspired you or impacted your service? 
On the outside looking in, people see me as this “go getter” who has it all together, but I didn’t do it alone. I owe a lot of my accomplishments and successes to my mentors and support system. I have several mentors both within and outside the Coast Guard who inspire me every day to be the best Coastie, officer, and individual. For women specifically, it’s important to have mentors who not only offer career guidance and advice, but who also provide that support and encouragement we all need. Women face a lot of unique challenges and it helps to have someone that you trust and can talk to about certain issues. It’s important to have mentors who don’t look like you. I have gained a wealth of knowledge from having a diverse mentor group.  
The Coast Guard has a history of strong women members. How have those members helped pave a path for you in the Coast Guard? 
To the SPARs (United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve) who broke barriers and started it all, the resilient women who have overcame adversity, the strong ones who have spoken out against harassment and discrimination, the Female Firsts, and to the women change makers…I honor you and I thank you. The actions and voices of these women have helped pave a path for me in the Coast Guard and I can’t wait to see where my path takes me as I continue this journey. 
What excites you about the future for women in the Coast Guard? 
The future looks bright for women serving in the Coast Guard. We continue to accomplish our personal and professional goals, excel at accomplishing the mission, and show people just how “tough” we really are. One day, one of us will make Commandant, and I can’t wait to see it. 

Read more about Lt. Grandville here.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Nervalis Medina-Echevarria, an electronic technician onboard Coast Guard Cutter Waesche, provides Combat Systems support to the 57mm MK 110 Gun Mount. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Aidan Cooney)Name: Petty Officer Second Class Nervalis Medina-Echevarria 
Duty Title: Electronics Technician 
Duty Location: Coast Guard Cutter Waeche, homeported in Alameda, California. 

 What is meaningful to you about currently serving in the Coast Guard? 
Being able to prove what women are capable of in the Coast Guard is what’s special to me. As a woman working in a field that is mostly male-dominant, I want to serve as an example to current and future women in the Service and hope they feel inspired to go after those hard qualifications or billets.  
Has joining the Coast Guard helped shape your identity as a person? 
Five years of service now and the Coast Guard has positively affected mostly every aspect of my life. The Coast Guard has helped me grow personally and professionally and because of this, I know I’m so much stronger, resilient, adaptable and capable than ever. I’ve been part of missions and completed duties that I would have never imagined myself doing. 

The Coast Guard has a history of strong female members. How have those members helped pave a path for you in the Coast Guard? 
For generations, women have been shifting the paradigm throughout the military. Because of these women, so many opportunities are available to us and we hold all sorts of positions, ranks, rates, and more. This gets other women thinking “if they can do it, so can I.” 
For myself, I’m proud to say that I get the opportunity to serve in one the Coast Guard’s most dynamic operating areas as part of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia this summer pending the successful completion of my pre-deployment training in May. Because of the strong women of the Coast Guard before me, this opportunity is made available, and I am so thankful to them.

Click here to read more about Petty Officer Second Class Nervalis Medina-Echevarria's story. 

Cdr. Leah Cole at the PACAREA/Base Alameda waterfront, February 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)Name: Cmdr. Leah Cole 
Duty Title: Response Operations Planner 
Duty Location: Coast Guard Pacific Area (PACAREA), Alameda, California. 

What inspired you to join the Coast Guard? 
The educational opportunity to attend the Coast Guard Academy inspired me to join the Service. What inspired me to stay, however, is decidedly more important; the remarkable people and unique mission sets of our organization. My friends, my husband (and now two children) and many of my life’s most defining experiences, adventures, opportunities and challenges were all met in some way, through the Coast Guard. 

What excites you about the future for women in the Coast Guard? 
Recent political, social, cultural, and pandemic impacts and realities in the U.S. have collided and brought visibility to issues that have long impacted women. Along with this, these impacts have led to an openness to discuss topics within the Coast Guard like retention, diversity, and inclusion. It makes it so there is an operational imperative that we modernize, adapt, and invest in our workforce so we can continually transform the experiences and representation of women and other underrepresented groups in the Coast Guard. 

Click here to read more about Cmdr. Leah Cole. 

Lt. j.g. Shirley Pilkey currently serves as an Equal Opportunity Advisor with the Coast Guard's Civil Rights Directorate at Region 1, Zone 2 (U.S. Coast Guard Photo).Name: Lt. j.g. Shirley Pilkey 
Duty Title: Equal Opportunity Advisor 
Duty Location: Civil Rights Directorate, Region 1, Zone 2, New London, Connecticut  

Do you have a mentor that has inspired you or impacted your service? 
Yes, it’s important to have someone or multiple people who inspire you to do better and who you can learn from. I personally look up to my mentors and admire their commitment to what they do. Currently, I count on Mr. Roy Ziegengeist and Lt. Danielle Gunderman as peer mentors. I work with Mr. Ziegengeist in the Region 1 Zone 2 office and Lt. Gundermann is a reservist who I met during officer training where she was one of the instructors. They are both extremely committed to the Coast Guard and have been extremely helpful in advancing my career and helping me realize my potential. 

What inspired you to join the Coast Guard? 
As an immigrant from Brazil who arrived in the United States in 2003, I always wanted to join the military. My service started in the Air Force Reserves where I enlisted as an IT specialist. As my career progressed, I wanted to become a commissioned officer, but I surpassed the Air Force’s age requirement. This didn’t stop me from reaching my goal and I found the Coast Guard to be the best option for advancing my military career. I had aspirations of working in education, training, development, and was also interested in teaching. Once I started my active duty contract as an Equal Opportunity Advisor, I fulfilled both my aspiration to serve in the military and to work in a field that is closely aligned with my educational background. 

To read more about Lt. j.g. Shirley Pilkey, please click here

CS3 Regan Collins (left) and CS3 Katherine Blanch take a picture together in the kitchen onboard the CGC HEALY (U.S. Coast Guard Photo).Name: Petty Officer Third Class Regan Collins 
Duty Title: Culinary Specialist 
Duty Location: Coast Guard Cutter Healy, homeported in Seattle, Washington 

The Coast Guard has a history of strong women members. How have those members helped pave a path for you in the Coast Guard? 
Since the SPARS (USCG Women’s Reserve), there have been numerous women that have helped shape and mold the Service into what it is today. These women definitely paved the way for myself and countless others. Their dedication and determination are what allow the women of the Service to have all of the roles, duties, and experiences that we have today. 

What inspired you to join the Coast Guard? 
The Coast Guard’s culinary rate is what inspired me to join the Service. I’ve always had a passion to cook, and wanted to go to college for it, but I couldn’t afford the tuition at the time. That’s when I became interested in the military and after comparing all of the culinary positions within the different branches, the Coast Guard’s culinary rate suited me best. 

Has joining the Coast Guard helped shape your identity as a person? 
The Service has not only shaped my identity as a person but also provided me various traits to help me succeed. Early in my career, I understood the importance of being someone that can follow orders and direction. I watched that evolve into me becoming someone that can also lead. Success comes from being able to do both. 

Read more about Petty Officer Third Class Regan Collins here

This article was developed by the Coast Guard Office of Civil Rights. Subscribe to the “On Deck” civil rights monthly newsletter through GovDelivery. Read archived copies of the newsletter on the Office of Civil Rights newsroom.