The Coast Guard turned 224 years old yesterday August 4, 2014. Beginning in 1790, Congress commissioned a flotilla of 10 to enforce tariff and trade laws, prevent smuggling, and protect the collection of federal revenue. (www.military.com) The Coast Guard is one of the oldest organizations in our government. The original name was Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service the name was changed in 1915 when the government joined the Service with the Life-Saving Service to form an organization to serve all maritime services. Including, saving life at sea, enforcing our nation’s maritime laws, aid to maritime navigation, operating the nation’s Lighthouses, Merchant Marine licensing and inspection, since 2003 the Coast Guard has served under the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard has been a defensive frontline in its long esteemed history.
The Women’s Reserve of the U. S. Coast Guard Reserve program (officially nicknamed the “SPARs”), was first established in 1942. LCDR Dorothy Stratton transferred from the Navy WAVES to serve as the director of the SPARs. A total of 978 women officers and 11,868 enlisted women served in the SPARs during World War II. (www.uscg.mil) although women were keepers of lighthouses as early as the 1830’s. In 1973, Congressional legislation ended the Women’s Reserve and women were first officially integrated into the active-duty Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Reserve. This background is sparse (this is a blog!). For more 411 please check out the USCG link.
My girlfriend Melanie and I graduated from high school in 1979. I asked Melanie to tell her story.
What age were u when joined?
I went into the Coast Guard through the “Delayed Enlistment Program” in signed up when I was 17 yrs, I forged my mothers signature to the paper work.
Why the USCG versus another branch of the military?
Actually, there are 2 reasons – 1st one is that I got interested when in 6th grade on a field trip to an air station in Port Angeles, WA. Then I figured I’d go into a smaller military thinking that there may be better opportunities. I was not offered very many opportunities after high school.
What opportunities were offered u as a women?
None really, it was 1979 and they men including the officers thought of the women as “moral incentives for the men” kind of sucked. (that is another story in itself)
What were your duties?
I was first stationed in Cape May, New Jersey (Boot camp). While in Cape May I won a push up contest against the guys and I was approached by an officer and asked if I would be interested in being the very first “Full Time” fire fighter in Kodiak, AK. Silly me thought why not. That was the hardest job I have ever had. Men usually only need to prove themselves once with other men, I was forced to proved my abilities daily (I had to carry 200lb men up and down ladders in and out of windows, etc…every stinking day. Then I was stationed in San Diego & Texas (ship and oil well firefighting schools). Then I was sent to Petaluma, CA (Coast Guard Station Two Rock)where I trained to be a radioman. Then to Charleston SC I was radioman their, and off the Miami, FL where I also was a radioman. (As far as busy USCG bases Miami was crazy, I would handle at least 20 SARS (Search & Rescue cases), about 5 Drug enforcement cases, and maybe 10 immigration cases at the same time. I extended my enlisted for one year and got out in 1984.
What is your proudest moment in your USCG career?
I have several but the one that stands out the most is in 1980 I was on Leave in Georgia and came across a vehicle overturned in a ditch. I crawled into the car and assisted the occupant while Billy Carter stood outside the car and kept putting out the fire that had erupted. He told his brother Jimmy about me and I was awarded one of the highest medals offered by the coast guard for bravery and courage.
Now that you have a daughter of your own, would u recommend a military career?
Yes, I would recommend the Coast Guard to my daughter, it taught me valuable lessons that I use every day.
What advice to young women seeking a Coast Guard career would you give?
Check into the academy or officer training schools, an officer life is a much better one. Also, keep your mouth shut, follow orders whether you agree with them or not and just try to have the best time you can.
Melanie was the First Full-Time Women Fire Fighter in the United States Coast Guard. What an accomplishment in that era, because she helped pave the way for women Coast Guard members than set precedent today. Today, on the Birthday of our United States Coast Guard I say THANK YOU for all you do. For my girlfriend Melanie, you are so brave and true, thank you for being my friend.