Women’s History Month: Tomorrow’s Leaders

Coast Guard Station Juneau boat crew members pause for a photo before getting underway from the pier in Juneau, Alaska, Jan. 28, 2015. The crew includes boat coxswains, engineers and deckhands. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst)

Coast Guard Station Juneau boat crew members pause for a photo before getting underway from the pier in Juneau, Alaska, Jan. 28, 2015. The crew includes boat coxswains, engineers and deckhands. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst)

The Coast Guard’s rich history includes many extraordinary women who were leaders and lifesavers. Dating back to the early days of the Lighthouse Service, one of the Coast Guard’s predecessor agencies, women have worked alongside their male counterparts when mariners in distress most needed it.

Today, at Coast Guard Station Juneau, Alaska, that tradition continues. Included in the five women at Station Juneau are Petty Officer 3rd Class Lacey Miller, a boatswain’s mate, and Fireman Rachel Larson, a member of the engineering department. Both are relatively new members to the service, yet their experience is already shaping who they will become as professionals, and how they can become future leaders of the Coast Guard.

While they have different goals and backgrounds, they both cope with working in a challenging environment while still leading fulfilling careers.

Miller’s Coast Guard story began just after high school when she decided to enlist.

“I went through boot camp, and that was a super humbling experience,” she said. “I realized what I was doing was so much bigger than me.”

Her first assignment was Station San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was the only female. It wasn’t long before she knew what direction to take her career.

“I decided to go boatswain’s mate. I wanted to drive boats, and I really wanted to be a leader,” Miller said of her specialty decision. “I went to A-school and met lots of females who were exactly like me, and who wanted to be boatswain’s mates for a lot of the same reasons as me.”

Her first assignment after school led her to Juneau, in the summer of 2014.

Larson, on the other hand, joined the Coast Guard after working as a contractor for the Army National Guard’s 303rd Cavalry – an all male regiment. She only graduated boot camp six months ago, but is no stranger to the challenges of working in a male-dominated field.

FN Rachel Larson and BM3 Lacey Miller

FN Rachel Larson and BM3 Lacey Miller

Although men still statistically far outnumber women in the military, the gap is gradually shrinking, and it shows in Juneau.

“When I first reported I was the third one,” Larson remarked of the number of women at Station Juneau. “Now there are five of us.”

While both genders are capable of accomplishing the station’s missions – the all-female boat crew proves that – it’s important to have like-minded camaraderie.

“Men and women are the same in some ways, but they’re very different in others,” said Miller. “You can’t really talk about certain matters with men that you can with women.”

In fact, it’s one of the women at Station Juneau who Miller sees as a role model. Petty Officer 2nd Class Sarah Brister, who is also a boatswain’s mate, is an example of how to overcome adversity.

“I got here and met BM2 Brister. I got to know her story,” said Miller. “A lot of people said she couldn’t do the job, and she said, ’Well, I’m going to prove them wrong.’ It was a huge inspiration for me.”

Miller is nearing her boat coaxswain qualification board, and is also headed to boarding officer school. Although it’s hard to look too far into the future, taking command of a 87-foot patrol boat somewhere down the line seems like the perfect gig to her.

Larson doesn’t plan on spending her whole career working on boat engines, but it’s not stopping her from making the best of the situation.

“We get out on the boats for cases,” she said, “and that’s the reason I joined the Coast Guard.”

She sees herself going to health services technician school to learn how to care for Coasties and the people rescued during emergency situations. Working at an air station would be right up her alley.

It’s early in the game, but these two women are the future of the Coast Guard. They both love their jobs, and they’re ready to face the challenges in front of them. It’s their service to shape.

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