Coast Guard recognizes leadership past, present and future

Women have been involved in the military since the military was created. They have assisted in military strategy (think Cleopatra), sewn flags, followed the drum supporting the troops behind the battle lines of war, kept lighthouses and even saved lives. In the Coast Guard, it wasn’t until World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the law in 1942 creating the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard known as the SPARs, or Semper Paratus! Always Ready!

Early SPARs were restricted to serving in the U.S. only, could not issue orders to any male servicemen and if they became pregnant, they had to submit their resignations.

We’ve come a long way since 1942. Today, the Coast Guard is approximately 15 percent female. They serve at Coast Guard units around the nation, and some overseas. Women now have command over cutters, fly Coast Guard aircraft, are successful leaders and maintain a family life in addition to their military roles.

As far as we’ve come, women in the military still seems to be a touchy subject to some, which is why the Coast Guard 17th District hosted the second annual Military Women’s Leadership Symposium in Juneau, Alaska, April 30.

The symposium, attended by both women and men, was held to inform members about resources for family life, military life, discuss gender-related policies and issues, and demonstrate that woman have been and will continue to be successful leaders in the military.

Capt. Melissa Rivera is one such successful female leader and was the keynote speaker in the symposium.

Capt. Melissa Rivera, commanding officer, Air Station Kodiak, gives a keynote address during the 2nd annual Military Women's Leadership Symposium, April 30, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska. Rivera presented her ideas on what makes a strong leader and challenged participants at the event to three leadership challenges. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow.

Capt. Melissa Rivera, commanding officer, Air Station Kodiak, gives a keynote address during the 2nd annual Military Women’s Leadership Symposium, April 30, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska. Rivera presented her ideas on what makes a strong leader and challenged participants at the event to three leadership challenges. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow.

Rivera is an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot and the commanding officer of the largest air station in the Coast Guard, Air Station Kodiak. A mother of four, and wife to a retired Coast Guardsman, Rivera graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, in 1991 and became a pilot in 1995, balancing between being a female in the military and having a personal life.

“It is absolutely possible to be a wife and a mother, but not without challenges and sacrifice,” said Rivera. “Balancing these many roles in a non-traditional career path takes constant work, and support from your family.”

During the symposium, guests were invited to participate in a question-and-answer panel with four successful female leaders in the Coast Guard including Rivera. One resounding message was reiterated by all of the panelists: leadership is accomplished through competence and confidence.

“Competence is about being good at your job,” said Rivera. “In an article by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp, he discussed both proficiency of craft as well as proficiency in leadership. An accomplished leader has mastered their craft, as well as upheld the highest standards of authority, responsibility and accountability. Confidence is about how you present yourself. Accomplished leaders provide clear expectations, ensure subordinates know what to expect from him or her, and genuinely respect his or her people. These two characteristics shift a leader from having ‘position power’ to having much more effective ‘personal power.’”

Rivera also challenged the guests of the symposium to create a personal leadership philosophy, establish a relationship with a mentor and to network with others.

“My command philosophy consists of two areas,” said Rivera. “One, what I expect from members of my command and two, what they can expect of me. My expectations are for my personnel to focus on three areas: mission excellence, others and self. Every issue we discuss or address at this unit, whether positive or negative, falls under one of these focus areas. The philosophy helps all unit members understand expectations, as well as lead and mentor those in their charge.”

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, Coast Guard 17th District, presents a coin to Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Simone, an avionics electronics technician, during the 2nd annual Military Women's Leadership Symposium, April 30, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska. Simone was recognized for her commendable actions and leadership example earning her the 2014 Douglas A. Munro Inspirational Leadership Award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Diana Honings.

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, Coast Guard 17th District, presents a coin to Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Simone, an avionics electronics technician, during the 2nd annual Military Women’s Leadership Symposium, April 30, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska. Simone was recognized for her commendable actions and leadership example earning her the 2014 Douglas A. Munro Inspirational Leadership Award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Diana Honings.

Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Simone, an avionics electrical technician at Air Station Kodiak, is the embodiment of a role model described in the Rivera’s challenges.

Simone empowers others through mentoring sessions to enhance unit readiness. She sets a positive example and is also a victim advocate for those who’ve experienced sexual assault. She volunteers for the Chief Petty Officer Association, Coast Guard Enlisted Association, Relay for Life and Special Olympics. She also volunteers as a registered nurse at the Rockmore King Clinic on Coast Guard Base Kodiak. She is also a wife and mother.

Simone’s commendable actions and example earned her the 2014 Douglas A. Munro Inspirational Leadership Award and she was recognized by Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, Coast Guard 17th District.

The award recognizes Coast Guard enlisted members who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and professional competence to the extent of their rank and rate. Upon formally receiving the award, Simone will be meritoriously promoted to the next rank – chief petty officer.

“It is a great honor and privilege to receive this and to be recognized by Adm. Ostebo, my command and my supervisors as deserving such an award,” said Simone. “I cannot begin to express my gratitude. It came as a complete surprise that I was even nominated.”

The last challenge to network was demonstrated by all of the guests as they were broken up into four focus group sessions for the remainder of the symposium. The sessions focused on establishing and maintaining a professional image, success in non-traditional gender roles, physical and behavioral health, and family separation.

“The focus groups were absolutely helpful in my networking challenge,” said Rivera. “I saw impressive interaction between Coasties during the focus groups and that is what it is all about. I saw people reach out to each other with information, advice and offers to assist when possible. I also saw people who were open to multiple perspectives and viewpoints on many issues. I learned so much from everyone.”

Rivera also commented on how she felt the event went.

“In my opinion, the symposium was an unqualified success. I would like to thank all of the Juneau-based folks who planned the event and made it happen. The overarching climate of the event was about mentoring and networking, both of which involve working together to ensure the success of each of us.”

It is through pioneers like the SPARs, Rivera, Simone and all of the past, present and future women who serve in the military to push for cultural changes in our society. Women have come a long way since following the drum, and events like the symposium held in Juneau remind us that we all, regardless of our gender, should take advantage of new opportunities as they continue to arise and be competent and confident in ourselves professionally and personally and as we step forward into the future.

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