By Ensign Alexander Cordes
In 2019, the RAND Corporation conducted an Analysis of Major Cutter Employment. Among the themes that emerged was camaraderie, which resonated with 66 percent of respondents, and command and leadership, 77 percent noted.
Both factors are affected by the makeup of the crew and the culture that manifests on the cutter. The other significant themes — routine, mission type, time away from homeport, training are intrinsic to going to sea. It is up to the command to partner with the crew to manage these things to achieve mission goals and professional development.
This summer, 13 petty officers reported to USCGC Resolute (WMEC 620) as part of the cutter’s enlisted women’s integration, making Resolute the third 210-foot cutter in the Reliance-class fleet to do so. The crew and the command share their thoughts on what attracted them to sea and the benefits of this change.
With ratings ranging from boatswain’s mate to operations specialist, electrician’s mate and machinery technician to yeoman and storekeeper, Resolute‘s new crewmembers have added tremendous value to the cutter’s diversity and operational effectiveness through their skills and background. For example, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica Potak, a boatswain’s mate, brings significant coxswain experience from small boat stations and a fast response cutter, enhancing the cutter’s counter-drug and alien migration interdiction operations.
Resolute‘s 78 member crew includes 14 female petty officers and two female junior officers who continue to pave the way for women to serve at sea. These professionals are across all shipboard disciplines, acting as an officer of the day, engineer of the watch, combat information center watch supervisor, or small boat coxswain.
Resolute‘s crew are proud and are eager to share their experiences to motivate the next generation of women to continue to serve at sea.
Women have served in the U.S. Coast Guard since 1830, first as lighthouse keepers and later in roles from telegraph operators to lawyers and pilots. World War II saw the establishment of the Women’s Reserve, filling mostly clerical positions. The first women to serve in afloat billets came to pass in 1977 when 24 chosen women reported to the 378-foot cutters Gallatin and Morgenthau as permanent crew. All career fields and rates opened to women in 1978. However, the logistics of putting that commandant’s direction into action is still maturing.
Many of Resolute‘s crew chose this cutter as their top pick due to mission, crew size, and an attractive location — St. Petersburg, Florida. However, there are still limited 210-foot cutter billets for women across the fleet.
Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Walters, a culinary specialist, noted, “It was a little disheartening to go through available CS billets and disregard a majority of them simply because they were ‘male-only’ crew arrangements. However, Resolute was my number one choice because I wanted to diversify my career portfolio and use this opportunity to play a larger role in the Coast Guard’s significant operations afloat.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Christine Fleming, an operations specialist, put Resolute and other cutters like it at the top of her list for more than eight years. “I knew many cutters were ‘male-only’ crews, but the detailer always told us there could be a chance if we put it on our lists. It seemed like a longshot for us, but it finally paid off!”
According to the women, the opportunities this platform offers are too good to pass up. For senior petty officers, achieving a leadership position within their rating is an outstanding professional opportunity. Petty Officer 1st Class Rebecca Davis, a yeoman, desired to get back underway for years following the conclusion of her tour on the 378-foot USCGC Hamilton (WHEC 715) in 2010. Due to limited afloat opportunities at the E-6 rank, options were limited and in demand. In terms of earning the designation of permanent cutterman or gaining points towards advancement, lack of sea time may negatively impact a career. When Resolute completed its integration, Davis jumped at the opportunity. She responded to the detailer’s email within minutes and was excited for a chance to advance her personal and professional goals.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Andi Webster, a boatswain’s mate, also long desired to serve aboard a medium endurance cutter. As a non-rate aboard USCGC Dauntless (WMEC 624) during their integration in 2014, Webster fell in love with the larger cutter platform’s mission and crew dynamic. Her previous experience drove her to push for a return to the cutter fleet.
While she is excited about this opportunity, she is also focused on the bigger picture of the integration. “It’s not just about the 13 of us, but all the women after us. Resolute‘s integration is another step toward providing more afloat opportunities to all who serve,” said Webster.
Cmdr. Justin Vanden Heuvel, commanding officer of Resolute, has very personal connections to breaking military service barriers. His mother, Sharon Gassen, served in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, DEA, FBI, and as a yeoman in the Coast Guard Reserve, witnessing numerous military growth and diversification milestones.
From her time in service, Gassen recalls, “the Coast Guard has always been unprecedented in its ability to provide an opportunity to women. Given our history, it does take time for things to change, but there is more opportunity today than ever.”
Vanden Heuvel stated, “On Resolute, we value diversity and embrace the kind of behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, lead to mission success. I appreciate closely coordinating with Chief Petty Officer Ramona Mason, EPM -2’s women’s afloat detailer. While it’s important to promote opportunities continually, it’s even more important to create environments that treat the interaction between diverse people and groups as the norm.”
Resolute is one of 14 active Reliance-class cutters in the U.S. Coast Guard portfolio. Built by the U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Maryland, it was commissioned in 1966 and carries the Service’s first cutter’s name, a top-sail schooner built in 1867. The cutter has been homeported on the East and West coasts and has several awards and significant cases to its name. Their motto is Fame Through Good Deeds, and the ship currently serves as a multi-mission platform to conduct Coast Guard missions throughout the Western Hemisphere.