Enlisted Empowerment — The female perspective: OS1 Kayla Gamester

Blog series created by Petty Officer 2nd Class Courtney Myers.

This is the eleventh 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.

Please describe your daily duties.

I am the communications lead petty officer, an Electronic Key Management System (EKMS) alternate manager, and an operations unit watchstander at Sector Puget Sound. On a daily basis I supervise 11 third and second class petty officers and manage the EKMS account for Sector Puget Sound and three subordinate units. I also stand watch, executing law enforcement and search and rescue cases. Another responsibility is to dispatch all sector departments for the required mission area.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

The most memorable moment of my career was when I was an OS2 operations unit controller at Sector San Francisco. I received a call that there were 32 children and eight adults on a sinking sailing vessel in San Francisco Bay in gale force winds. I dispatched the station and air station, had comms send an Urgent Marine Info Broadcast (UMIB), planned the search patterns in the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS), and directed sheriff and good Samaritan vessels on scene. The case was quick paced with heavy communications from multiple assets and difficult coordination. All lives were saved.

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

Yes. Refer to the above question. There is a definite stigma of women trying to get out of patrols with fake illnesses, which leads medical to not take every case seriously. I was also the only female in my “A” school class, and there was a female-only billet on our e-resume pick lists at graduation. Although I was the top of my class and would have received my No. 1 pick, I was only able to take the female billet. So billet selection is a big obstacle sometimes. Luckily, that situation ended up being a blessing in disguise.

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

I am a beginner slalom inline skater, which consists of doing tricks around tiny cones. I skate for cardio as well, stand up paddleboard, and am a scrapbooker. I try to get to as many concerts as possible, hike, and host outdoor movies on my backyard projector screen.

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

I find big value in being a supportive friend. I love doing things for the people I love, lending an ear, hosting parties, and just enjoying people’s company.

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

Do it! Realize that you are as valuable as or more so than your male counterparts. You will have to hold your own sometimes. You may be the only female in your department. You can own it, and you will be respected for it. Believe me, I’ve been there! The Coast Guard can take you to amazing places and open you up to experiences you never thought possible.

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

It’s hard! It takes work. The most valuable thing, though, is that you cannot control other’s actions, only your own and the way you react to situations. Always do your best, and always encourage others to do the same. Give them what they need to succeed.

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

I do not have a mentor per se, but there are women in the Coast Guard that I admire the hell out of. Danielle Couture was an OS1 and is now a civilian SAR controller at Sector San Francisco. She was fierce, always spoke the truth, and knew her pubs and policies. She was and is one of my biggest role models. Becky Newell held her own as an MK and a super smart one amongst men, a momma, and a wife. She kicks butt at all of it.

Please share your favorite sea story (that you wouldn’t mind being published).

Haha! That’s a hard one, actually. I was plugman on the fire team on Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau. I was fiercely proud of being on the team as a junior member and a girl. I had to hold my own. The alarm went off in the middle of the night and I was so pumped I ran down the P way in my boots, tank top and pajama shorts with pumping adrenaline. I got to the locker, got geared up, and we made our way across the ship sweating, carrying my heavy tool bag. The fire was out by the time we arrived on station. When we got back to the locker the DC2 who was our team leader said, “Disher, you’re crazy!” From him, that was respect. I felt very proud, and I can’t help but smile when I think back on that teamwork and adrenaline rush. Making a name for yourself as a woman amongst all male engineers is something to be proud of.

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?

I wish I had known about all the things available to me on computers! I was a fireman and the world of Coast Guard Portal and patrol schedules – I didn’t even know they existed until I went to “A” school.

 

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