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My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 27, 2024

Captain Joyce Dietrich-Holm: Celebrating Women’s History Month in the Intelligence Community

By Lt. Daria McKenna, Cyber Analyst, CG-ICC

Capt. Dietrich-Holm generously donated her time to be interviewed by a member of ICC’s WLI Chapter and shared the following thoughts on the questions posed to her. Please note that Captain Dietrich-Holm’s responses to the below questions were paraphrased by the interviewer.

Among the alphabet soup of three-letter Intelligence agencies in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area lies the Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center (ICC) in Suitland, Maryland led by Capt. Joyce Dietrich-Holm – the first female commanding officer (CO) of the unit since its initiation in 1984.  

Capt. Dietrich-Holm assumed Command in August 2022, and in celebration of Women’s History Month she sat down with ICC’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) Chapter to share her reflections on her experiences as a female in the Coast Guard, as a leader and role-model, and as the first female CO of ICC, in hopes of inspiring and promoting the next generation of Intelligence professionals.  

When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in the Coast Guard Intelligence Enterprise? 

Short-answer, no. My first tour coming out of the Coast Guard Academy as a junior officer was on a cutter. Though I was a Collateral Duty Intelligence Officer (CDIO) there, the opportunity to become part of the Intelligence Community just fell in my lap. Looking to move to the DC area, a few mentors advised me that Intelligence was a really cool career opportunity, so I decided to give it a shot. I reported into the Intelligence Coordination Center as a junior officer at the Commandant’s Intelligence Plot (CIP). I have to say that it is so cool to see new people in this role and how the next generation has grown and made intelligence so much better. 

Who inspired you to be a leader and why? 

I don’t want to give a cliché answer, but I think my parents. They were the ones who encouraged me to attend the Coast Guard Academy - they really thought that I should give it a go. To be honest, I don’t think I thought much about being a leader when I was first starting my career, but when I moved forward in my career and began to mature as a leader, I realized that it was the people I worked with, particularly young junior officers or junior enlisted, that inspired me. As a leader, I get excited about elevating the next generation of leaders and removing barriers to their success and professional growth. I try my best to get rid of obstacles so that talent can rise and do great things. 

What has been the most significant barrier in your career? 

During my first tour in the Coast Guard serving on a cutter, I felt like my femininity was a weakness, and that others were trying to ‘beat it out of me.’ I constantly received criticism for my soft voice on the radio or 1MC and was once verbally counseled for saying “thank you” to the people on my ship, like the Quarter Masters on the bridge. I was barred from opportunities like Boarding Officer School because I wasn’t “tough enough” and at the time I believed them. I don’t think I was the cookie cutter of what they thought I should be, and it really shook my confidence and made me think that I was not the right fit for the service. 

What does it mean to you to be the first female CO of the ICC? 

To be honest, the first thing I thought when I got this position was, ‘I am entrusted to nurture a critical aspect of national security.’ Regardless of being male or female, I am the person entrusted to do this job and be a good leader – funnily enough, I don’t think I have ever thought of it as being the first female CO here. I just want to promote the idea of others following in this role behind me – I want to be someone that everyone can look up and relate to. What I don’t want to do is the opposite of what some men may have done in the past in positions of power, where they favor the men – I really try to make it an equal workplace and not favor women as I wouldn’t want a male leader to favor men.  

Why aren’t there more female leaders in the Coast Guard and in the Intelligence Career field? 

I don’t think that is true, is it? I think we a have a lot of female representation in intelligence and that women, particularly officers, are promoting at proportionate rate. It seems pretty 50/50 or close to it, and I am surrounded by excellent female peers in the Coast Guard Intelligence Enterprise like Capt. Lewis, Capt. Hidalgo, Capt. Leydet, Capt. Hernaez, and Adm. Ore to name a few. 

I guess what I would say is that my number one consideration in this current role is my family and my kids. As a mother of two, I have to think of family stability when I think about continuing my career. On mornings when I go into the Commandant’s Intelligence Plot brief, I miss out on the opportunity to do my daughter’s hair before she goes to school – it is a small moment that I miss. Even with a supportive spouse, it is tough to miss time at home or consider jobs that would uproot their stability. I think a lot of women and men, who would make great future Coast Guard leaders, are faced with the same reality, and make personal decisions and sacrifices with their families in mind. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in the Intelligence Enterprise and the Coast Guard? 

Strive to be the best version of your authentic self. You have to be true to yourself, whether that’s wearing your heart on your sleeve or having the ability to stay stoic in any situation, there is always going to be someone who is a natural complement to you out there. Our strength is our authenticity. However, I’ve learned that you must keep in mind how others receive you – I’m very bubbly, and I’m a big hugger, but I realize when I have an audience that may not be appropriate for that. I’m not compromising on myself or my values, but maybe I’ll go in for a handshake rather than a hug. 

My advice for people wanting to continue in their career … you can do WAY more than you think you can. I think women, especially, tend to underestimate themselves. In intelligence especially, go for it, your Nation needs you! Long hours aside, I am so rewarded by this work and the impact we have that makes this Nation safer for my family and the next generations. I would also advise that you squeeze every experience out of every job. Each position has given me experiences that led me to where I am today, and I am constantly drawing from those unique experiences as a Commanding Officer. Even if it’s not a job that you particularly wanted, there is always an opportunity to grow and learn, and those lessons will be invaluable to you. 

Despite the progress in diversity in the Coast Guard organization, there remain many meetings where there is a single woman in the room. Does that impact how you interact with others in the room? 

There was a time where I was very used to being around men only. It was common to be the only female, and it was a surprise when there were other women in the room. Now, I’m used to seeing other leaders like me at the table with an equal voice. I have experienced times when there are people in the room who talk over women, but it is certainly not the norm and it happened more when I was a junior officer. Especially in my role leading and facilitating the CIP briefs in the morning, I feel that my female peers and I are equals in the room that lift one another up – our opinions are valued and respected. I acknowledge, however, that I am in a position of power as the CO of ICC and at a rank of O6 – I’m not sure that this doesn’t happen in other settings, but I strongly believe that things have moved forward in our Service to be more inclusive of the diversity of women in the room and in positions of power.