Enlisted Empowerment—The Female Perspective: IT2 Ashley Munnelly

Blog series created by YN2 Courtney Myers

This is the eighth in a series of Q&A blog posts highlighting enlisted female leaders serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Be sure to check back monthly for more career insight, mentorship and inspiration.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

1. Please describe your daily duties.

I am an Information Systems Technician Second Class at Electronic Support Detachment (ESD) Houston. I manage network and communication systems throughout the Houston-Galveston area of responsibility.

2. What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

I was recently awarded the National Image Inc. Meritorious Service Award. I was fortunate enough to be able to fly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and participate in training to support their mission, which ultimately promotes Hispanic employment in the federal government through training, leadership development, education, and the advancement of civil rights for all. This unique opportunity enabled me to establish a partnership with various leaders in the Hispanic community. It was incredibly rewarding.

3. What is your favorite part of your job?

I love working with people. It is the best part of my day. I love helping people to solve problems with their workstations and telephones, and I enjoy working to stand up communication for emergency response. When I first arrived at ESD, there was an oil spill. We had to set up a massive COOP (Continuity of Operations) for several different agencies. It was very exciting, and I realized that my job involved more than just replacing video cards in a workstation. Working for an amazing group of people at ESD Houston has made all the difference.

4. Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what made you keep pushing?

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

I can think of two instances where I felt especially challenged while serving on active duty. At one point in my life, I was a single mother. I was a non-rate and was struggling to make ends meet. I had to consider what was best for me and my son. With the love and support of my parents, I was able to attend IT “A” school to further my education and become a valued member of the IT rating. I realized that my son and I deserved the best life possible, and the Coast Guard was able to bless us with those opportunities. Recently, I applied for Officer Candidate School. I endured the entire process and found out I was 14 days too old. I refuse to give up. The opportunity is now to explore other avenues to grow and feel enriched. I look forward to returning to school to further my education in Network and Cyber Security.

5. Do you feel as though you have faced obstacles that your male counterparts have not?

I do feel that there have been moments where things were not always easy. I worked in the Department of Corrections prior to joining the Coast Guard, so being in a predominantly male environment was nothing new. Luckily, I have met some incredible female leaders and mentors along the way like Lt. Melissa McCafferty and Senior Chief Petty Officer Ann Logan. They inspire me to stay focused and continue striving to achieve my goals.

6. Do you have a hobby that you enjoy outside of work? If so, please explain.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

I love to volunteer and really enjoy traveling. On the volunteer front, I am actively involved in coaching high school sports at one of our inner-city schools in Houston. My own children love going to cross-country meets and soccer games. I am actively involved with the local domestic violence agency, and really enjoy giving training to personnel at the agency on how the Coast Guard handles sexual assault. It’s a win-win – I get to meet new people and am able to provide educational opportunities (as well as be educated) by professionals who will help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the community. This year we are organizing a huge toy drive that will provide donations to three community agencies. It’s amazing what can be accomplished by working together – our service is full of really good people.

7. Is there anything particular you do outside of your Coast Guard service to maintain your personal identity?

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Munnelly.

I run marathons. This January I will cross the finish line on my 10th marathon at the Houston Chevron 26.2. I need to step up my training – it is a nice opportunity to have some quiet time before the sun rises, but there will be miles to go before I sleep.

8. Do you ever find it difficult to balance mom life and operational life?

I have two beautiful children. My son is three and my daughter is one. Luckily, the support of my family has enabled me to continue my education and engage in community outreach, much of which my children also participate. Motherhood is a gift. There are difficult moments – I have had to lean on friends and family for help with rides/babysitting/duty calls/school. It really does take a village…but it can be done!

9. What advice would you give to young women thinking about joining the service?

Go for it! It will change your life. I tell my students that it has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Imagine getting paid to do something you enjoy and to be able to take advantage of additional educational and vocational opportunities. Our service contributes greatly to the safety and security of our nation – I feel so much pride to be a part of this “family” and our mission.

10. What is the most valuable lesson the Coast Guard has taught you in regards to leadership?

Everyone has a unique perspective. Each person offers skills and experiences that provide an opportunity for the mission to be successful. Leadership and Management School was a great experience. During that week of training, it became really clear that when we all worked together the outcome was so much greater.

11. If you have used Tuition Assistance, please tell us about your experience.

I just completed my final class of my master’s degree program this week. I will begin my thesis shortly, and 16 weeks later I will hold a master’s degree in criminal justice. I have always wanted to continue my education and, because of the Coast Guard and the support of my current command, I was able to return to school and earn my master’s. I have grown to appreciate social justice and the importance of civil rights/equality for everyone thanks to my continued education. I would encourage any active duty person to utilize the TA benefit and study what interests them most.

12. Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you go about choosing this individual?

Lt. Melissa McCafferty is one of my most respected mentors. I met her at Sector Houston. She was the lead Victim Advocate (VA). As a VA, I wanted to get more deeply involved in the program than just attending training and checking a box. With confidence, McCafferty delegated various responsibilities to me. I felt inspired to coordinate sexual assault prevention training, engage in community outreach with local domestic violence agencies, organize Christmas toy drives for survivors of domestic violence, and participate in a committee that organized the Women’s Leadership Symposium at Sector Houston thanks to her direction and encouragement. McCafferty is my sounding board and continues to provide advice moving forward on how to grow, both personally and professionally. As I continue to assume more responsibility in my career, I will strive to provide similar leadership to those working for or with me.

13. Please share your favorite sea story.

While stationed on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, we moored up in Panama City, Panama, for our port call. I went on a cave spelunking tour in a remote town outside of the city. I remember families sitting outside of their grass huts and children running around with no shoes. They had no running water because a storm had damaged their water supply. When the children found out I was an American they ran over and hugged me. They were asking in Spanish so many questions about what it was like to be an American. I was so moved by this experience. These individuals had so little, yet were so happy. I remember when we pulled back into San Diego I kissed the ground as I walked on to the pier. This is such an amazing country, and the more I travel, the more I appreciate all that we have.

14. If there was one thing you wish you would have known when you reported to your first unit that you know now, what would it be?

Nothing lasts forever. During those long work days preparing to get underway, I would understand there is a purpose. Having taken a class on drug cartels, I can really appreciate the importance of our law enforcement/drug interdiction mission, and the vital role everyone plays from the commanding officer to the lowest-ranking person. The scope of our mission goes well beyond what we do – so getting up at four in the morning while underway is more than just feeling tired – it is potentially about saving someone’s life from the perils of addiction as we interdict cocaine, and other contraband from the cartels. We all serve a great purpose, and it is important to remain focused on the mission and enjoy each moment – one day it will only be a memory.

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