By Lt. Antoine Adams, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
As you step into the building, the one thing that you notice immediately is the air conditioning. The cool indoor airflow is a welcome reprieve from the outdoor desert heat that routinely reaches above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Once acclimated, the next thing a visitor will notice in building two of the Naval Support Activity Bahrain base is the command board with portraits of U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA)’s command cadre and department heads. Although these boards are commonplace throughout the Coast Guard, what is unique about this board is that no two members pictured look alike. Indeed the leadership of PATFORSWA includes officers and enlisted members from all walks of life, and visually embodies tenets from the Coast Guard Commandant’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP).
Launched in the summer of 2020, the DIAP is the Coast Guard’s holistic effort to identify and mitigate bias, work together to nurture a sense of community, and continue improving our culture toward bolstering the Service’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. As the largest outside continental US (OCONUS) Coast Guard command, PATFORSWA has wholeheartedly embraced these lines of effort.
The current Commodore, Capt. Willie Carmichael, assumed command of PATFORSWA in July of 2020, and was pleased with the sense of community represented within this one-of-a-kind unit.
“It’s truly great to see the ‘one team, one fight’ mentality in practice as our entire workforce works together to accomplish the mission by embracing individual personal backgrounds and strengths,” said Carmichael. “At the command cadre level, we encourage the Leadership and Diversity Advisory Council (LDAC), to find creative ways to bring members together and promote camaraderie, despite the isolating effects of COVID. We also use nationally recognized events such as Hispanic Heritage month to hold a potluck and talk about the contributions of Hispanic Coast Guard members.”
PATFORSWA strives to maintain an inclusive community by creating opportunities for members to voice their concerns. These efforts include a weekly eagles and anchors meeting that was established earlier in summer 2020, and “real talk with the deputy,” where all paygrades are encouraged to present any issues directly to leadership.
Finally, to encourage dialogue among the entire crew, the command sponsors “Shwarma Time” on Tuesday. This is an opportunity for members to meet outside of the office and talk about all the things you might discuss as a team about climate and culture. Shwarma is a traditional Middle Eastern street food of thinly sliced meat and vegetables in a leavened bread. The LDAC and Coast Guard Enlisted Association under the direction of Petty Officer 1st Class Adrianne Danner, an information systems technician assigned to the shoreside IT division, leveraged local cuisine to bring people together and “break bread”.
“This open dialogue among our members increases communication and understanding amongst each other as we are stationed so far away from friends and family,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Lisa Pique, a storekeeper and the LDAC chair. “Open communication allows ideas and values from different backgrounds to be heard and appreciated. We need to be able to trust each other, and these types of conversations allows the unit as a whole to embrace our differences, as well as find common ground.”
Located in Bahrain, a small country in the Arabian Gulf, members of PATFORSWA are already attuned to understanding different cultures, traditions, and socioeconomic variations. In fact, as part of their pre-deployment training, all incoming PATFORSWA members receive cultural awareness instruction. This fact may be one reason why diversity and inclusion practices organically exist throughout PATFORSWA, from the shoreside component to the six 110-foot Island-class cutters.
Amongst the cutters and crew, DIAP is a strong feature in the great work they do day in and day out. The Coast Guard Cutters Monomoy and Maui, two of the six cutters attached to PATFORSWA, are mixed gender and allow all Coast Guard members interested in Arabian Gulf afloat opportunities the chance to deploy to the Middle East. Furthermore, Monomoy gained prominence as the second Coast Guard cutter to sail with nearly equal compliments of men and women back in the 1990s, and continues that legacy.
Similarly, the shoreside component of PATFORSWA, which comprises the Maritime Engagement Team and support personnel, promote DIAP initiatives. Two members of the PATFORSWA crew, the previously mentioned Danner, and Petty Officer 1st Class Sharina Komen, an electrician’s mate aboard Maui, started a chapter of the Coast Guard Woman’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) in March 2020. Likewise, Petty Officer 1st Class Amad Hankins, a store keeper with PATFORSWA’s shoreside supply division, is a founding member of Enlisted Professionals in Connection, a Coast Guard-recognized affinity group promoting diversity and mentorship for enlisted members.
Further demonstrating their commitment to DIAP principles, members of PATFORSWA opted to attend the 48th National Naval Officer Association’s virtual symposium titled, “Inclusion and Diversity, A Catalyst for Maritime Superiority,” despite the time difference between Bahrain and the East Coast.
“I didn’t mind attending late into the evening or waking up at 1:00 a.m., because I knew I would connect with exceptional people, receive high-class mentorship, and converse on how to improve our sea services,” said Lt. j.g. Cody Mitchell, operations officer aboard Maui.
From entering the main building of PATFORSWA to sailing aboard the cutters, and spending time with the shoreside component, one can easily see the DIAP permeates throughout this Coast Guard unit. Members embrace the connections between one another, treat each other with fairness and dignity, and make everyone feel like a valued part of the crew no matter their background.
PATFORSWA is composed of six 110-foot cutters, shoreside support personnel, and the Maritime Engagement Team. The unit also supports other U.S. Coast Guard deployable specialized forces operating throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
Since the establishment of PATFORSWA in 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard’s unique skillset has been in high demand within the CENTCOM AOR, where counter-smuggling operations through the Combined Maritime Forces and Visit Board Search and Seizure operations have grown increasingly vital.