My Coast Guard
Commentary | Oct. 27, 2021

Sound Bodies and Sound Minds 

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Abban, Coast Guard Academy public affairs

Structural integrity is the baseline prerequisite for all Coast Guard assets—whether it be daily boat checks for its fleet, preflight checks for its aviation equipment, or the annual physical health assessments its members are required to complete. The Coast Guard is only operational if its assets – and people – are in a condition that will allow them to carry out and complete the mission. 

Ensuring that our workforce is in good mental shape is why the Coast Guard is adding to its arsenal of resources by hiring 10 behavioral health providers who specialize in psychology or social work, and can perform assessment diagnosis, treatments, and are experts known as authorized organizational authorities. Three additional providers are expected to on-board within the next few months. Regional Nurse Case Managers are also being recruited and six of these 11 nurse case managers have been selected—and will be able to support behavioral health needs for our members.

Having our developing leaders better understand mental and behavioral health was a motivation behind placing a provider at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA). 

“Service academies are places where behavioral health is always important,” said Capt. Jerry Mahlau-Heinert, the mental health integrator and lead behavioral health professional responsible for overseeing the expansion of the behavioral health program. “We have Lt. Cmdr. Rhondie Tait at the Academy and she will also broadly support District One as a strategically located, enterprise asset to meet the behavior health needs of the Coast Guard.” 

Hiring Tait, a U.S. Public Health Service, as CGA’s first Behavioral Health Provider is significant. Hailing from the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, Tait’s psychological flair was sparked at an early age.  

“It started with an elective psychology course in high school,” she explained. “It was the most interesting class I had ever taken, and it prompted me to consider psychology for a major in college.”

Steadfast in her passion, Tait has continued to forge an impressive career in this field. Successfully completing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she became board certified in that same field through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Additionally, she served for eight years active duty with the U.S. Navy before recently undergoing an inter-service transfer to the Public Health Service this past September. With an already accomplished career behind her, Tait now looks forward to her new role at the Academy.  

“I am thrilled the Coast Guard is investing in a more preventative model of care, where we seek to help people build resilience before a big crisis hits,” she said. Tait comes to the Academy as one of 13 licensed, uniformed behavioral health providers the Coast Guard is working to bring on-board. 

Rear Adm. Dana Thomas, director of Health Safety and Work-Life, chartered a Behavioral Health Improvement Working Group in October 2020 to provide a global perspective on behavioral health. The group researched the most practical ways in which the service could both expand internal behavioral health assets while simultaneously reducing the stigmatization of seeking out mental health care. 

Tait shared from her perspective as a provider, “Our job is to provide care coordination, command consultation, and training of support staff on behavioral health matters.”

Previously, behavioral health assets in the Coast Guard were scarce, making access to desired care difficult. From this point on, the Coast Guard Academy is proactively working to ensure that this inelastic demand for care is met with an adequate supply of resources. 

When asked about her ambitions, Tait said, “My hope is that I can help people move closer to their best version of themselves, which in turn will help them to be better shipmates and to optimally meet the mission.”

Reporting aboard this October, Tait will be ready to assist interested active duty personnel, including cadets, this November.