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USCG Honors
First Women at Sea

by
Julz Carey
Vice President, American
Veterans For Equal Rights

37 years ago this did not seem to be such a big deal.  The Coast Guard had decided to permanently assign women to US combatant vessels.  There would be 2 vessels, one on the west coast and another on the east.  I was 17 years old, a young BM3 not long out of "A" school, and with a month of small boat training at CG Station Humboldt Bay, CA.  I had received a call from  my recruiter asking me if I would be interested in a shipboard assignment. It was an experiment that may or may not have lasted and I jumped at the chance.  Summer 1977 found me reporting aboard Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin, homeport: Governor's Island, New York  City.   

There were 12 women, 2 officers and 10 enlisted.  The officers shared a stateroom and the enlisted were berthed in the starboard engineering 10 man berthing.  We had a lot to learn, especially those of us in traditional seagoing rates, but we banded together to make this "experiment" work.  Over the next 2 and a half years I experienced boring North Atlantic patrols punctuated by 30 foot seas, "jaws" sightings, hours spent beating ice off of the superstructure, and the occasional fishing fleet inspections. We spent much of our time patrolling the Caribbean, stopping in San Juan, Puerto Rico at least a dozen times.  Ocean liner fires, volcanoes, vessels loaded with marijuana and cocaine,  lost fishermen adrift on the high seas were some of the adventures that came with the hours spent on flight ops and endless drills.  We were dogged by the press and DACOWITS, uniforms became an issue and the inevitable shipboard romances happened.  In time, we figured out that we were a crew, didn't matter the gender, just the ability to do our job.   We went to Gitmo for war games with the Navy and conducted ourselves pretty much like any other crew.  Well, maybe our sea stories were a little more colorful.

Eventually some were transferred to other units and new women came to the crew.  Other vessels were opened to women and the US Navy introduced women to some of their vessels.  The "experiment" was a success and women can now expect sea duty to be the norm, not the exception.

Over the years, I often wondered if there would ever be a reunion for those first women I served with.  Many pictures packed away were keys to memories long forgotten.  One day I signed into my facebook account and saw a note from a dear friend telling me about a ceremony honoring the 24 women who volunteered to go to sea.  Suddenly the urge to reconnect and be part of this event became mandatory.

The day dawned beautiful and I made my way to the Naval Memorial in Wash. DC. Meeting old shipmates and sharing memories was bittersweet. Speeches were given from distinguished guests such as the Commandant of the Coast Guard and the Master Chief of the Coast Guard.  I was surprised to hear so many high ranking and high achieving Coast Guard women officers thanking us for taking that step.   These women now serving have many, many years of sea time and have achieved goals we could barely dream of.  I feel that we may have opened the door to integrated sea service, but they burst through behind us, leading the way for servicewomen to follow in the years to come.  That being said, it felt good to be thanked and acknowledged for our service.  It felt good to reconnect and share stories old and new.  It was somewhat humbling to see my name on a chunk of rock to be displayed in our nation's capitol.  I am grateful for the efforts of those who made it happen, especially a certain MKCS who took it upon herself to see it through. Funny thing though..it sure doesn't seem like it was that long ago.

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