Enlisted Empowerment—The Female Perspective: YN1 Blake Tilton

Blog series created by YN2 Courtney Myers

This is the seventh 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.

What are your daily duties?

I am currently assigned to Training Center Cape May as a Recruit Company Commander. My daily duties consist of spending 9- 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, training recruits in basic Coast Guard knowledge, close order drill, manual of arms, followership, leadership, military customs and courtesies, fitness and the core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

While I have only been in for eight years, this question is very hard for me to narrow down. Each experience the Coast Guard has offered me has come with its own highly memorable and appreciated moments. I would have to say that my most memorable moment to date is graduating my first recruit company from Coast Guard basic training. It wasn’t so much that I had trained them, but it was seeing the inspirational transformation that these men and women willingly put themselves through to better themselves, their families, their country and their future. Seeing people travel through the incredibly difficult eight-week journey, at their highest and lowest moments, really affords you the opportunity to inspire and empower them to be what they, deep down, knew they could be. I’m equally as proud of all the other companies I have been a part of, but the first one, being my first experience after Company Commander School, really hit home just how important that job would prove to be.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My job has a magnitude of unique layers, but I would have to say that my favorite part is seeing people from all walks of life finally come together as a team and prove to themselves what they can really accomplish. I love seeing the pride that beams from them as they begin to realize they’re capable of so much more than they ever believed they were.

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

I think every person, male or female, has ruts in their career that make them question their decisions or judgment; But, yes, many times. What makes me keep going is my morals and personal values. We teach the recruits in training about commitment and values and I believe it’s so important. Understanding what’s important to you and why will always give you the fuel you need to keep going when you want to quit. I might have to have a good cry every now and again and then I remind myself that success is moving from one failure to another without losing your enthusiasm and I get back up and go at it again. They key is enthusiasm and to remember the love you have for what you’re doing and why you started out to do it in the first place. For example, Company Commander School was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. About halfway through, I started to question whether or not I could really do this, I felt like I was failing even though I was trying so hard. It was there that I realized that “our deepest desire is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we can be” and finishing what I started meant that I could help future Coast Guard men and women see the same things in themselves and finish things they never thought they could.

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

I honestly think that as women we have a drive or desire to prove to our male counterparts that we’re equal. I wouldn’t call that an obstacle that’s placed in my way by anybody but myself. I do think that having a family and raising children can be an obstacle a little more for women than men which is hard when we want to have successful, dedicated careers as well.

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

Outside of work I enjoy reading and running. I’m currently back in school so most of my time away from work is spent doing homework or taking tests to finish my degree. I also really like woodworking and making furniture from reclaimed wood.

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

I enjoy volunteering in my off time. I think it helps me separate myself from the service a little and keep me grounded. It’s always good to humble yourself and help others in need.

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

Don’t let any rumor of it being ‘harder for women’ stop you from achieving your goals. I honestly try to put the gender thing out of my head completely. I want to get where I can in my career based solely on my own merits, hard work and dedication. Travel! Take advantage of all the opportunities afforded to you. Always try to be a better version of yourself tomorrow. SMILE! Don’t lose sight of what makes you happy and what makes you, YOU!

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

Honestly, I’ve learned so much from having amazing leaders and each one of those leaders was completely different in their leadership style and approach. While each one of them is great, I’m so happy to have a versatile group of mentors and leaders because no two groups of people you might work with or for are the same. Understanding that is probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned. It’s perfectly demonstrated in recruit training. No group of recruits is the same—you have to find what works for them, what makes them tick and what motivates them to get them to the end goal. Knowing your team and your people is so important.

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

I chose to use my GI Bill while still in. I love it!

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

I have several mentors. Each tour in the Coast Guard I have found people who inspire me and drive me to be better and I seek their advice. Not all of these mentors have been women either. I think it’s important to find the people that make you think, “I want to be like them when I grow up” and pick their brain. See what pearls of wisdom they have that you can adopt and or use to cultivate the best version of you possible.

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

I was a very soft spoken and easily embarrassed teenager when I reported to my first unit. I wish I had understood the gravity of the entire situation and the choice I made to enlist as I think it would have taken me less time to adapt to my surroundings and come out of my shell. Maturity comes with age and experience but I think that I could have been better prepared for the kind of hard work that I was going to have to put in.

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