You may have heard the exciting news – the Academy just admitted the highest percentage of women to the Class of 2020 than has any other service academy in history! I’m very proud of this accomplishment, and it did get me thinking about a question I’ve been asked a few times. “What is it like to be a female Coast Guardsman, and a woman in the U.S. military?” When I am approached with such a topic, I already have my answer ready to go. Being a woman in the Coast Guard is an awful lot like…well, being any sort of person in the Coast Guard.
Statistically, one may debate that fact. The vast majority of the Coast Guard is comprised of men, both on the officer and enlisted sides of the house. We’re looking at a force that is only about 10-15% female. The Academy has mostly male cadets, as women make up about 35-40% of the corps (again, worth noting that this is the highest percentage of all the service academies!). Less than 10% of Coast Guard pilots are female; at my air station this summer, I only met five female pilots (and at least one other was on maternity leave). So, if you are hooked on numbers, it should be a vastly different experience being female as opposed to male; there seems to be so few of us around! That’s just the thing, though. It is not about numbers. It is not just about the ratio of women to men when you board an aircraft or a cutter. It is not just about how many women are in your academic major, your company, or your clubs.
The factor that defines the experience a woman has in the military is how she is treated by her fellow service members, be they superiors or subordinates. And here, at the Academy and in the Coast Guard, as a woman in the military, you are treated as a person. You are treated as a leader in your own right, with your own abilities, struggles, skills, faults, positive personality traits, and bad habits. You are held to a high standard of moral responsibility and behavior, just like your male counterparts, and you are respected and appreciated according to how you treat other people and the quality of your work. Regardless of whether you are male or female, your value to the service stems from simply how you carry yourself and show that you care about this service and the people whose lives you are impacting every day. That is what makes the Coast Guard an amazing organization.
I love seeing how the number of women at the Academy is growing simply because the Coast Guard is a wonderful service, and being a Coastguardsman is an invaluable opportunity. Not a “female Coastguardsman,” no stipulations or extra expectations or preconceived notions about females in the military. Just a plain and simple “Coastguardsman” – the greatest thing you can be.
More about Abby.