Enlisted Empowerment — The female perspective: ME1 Samantha Whitacre


 Blog series created by YN2 Courtney Myers

This is the tenth 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 currently assigned to the CGIS (Coast Guard Investigative Services) Protective Service Detail (PSD). We are based out of Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. By trade I am an ME1, but here I am a Protective Service Agent (PSA) through CGIS. So I am credentialed and I carry a badge and concealed weapon. My primary duty at this assignment is to protect the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Paul F. Zukunft. I can’t really say I have a daily routine since every day is completely different. One day I may just drive him to the events scheduled and the next day I may be traveling to Istanbul, Turkey to conduct an advance to ensure it is safe for him to travel there.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

My most memorable time in the Coast Guard would have to be boot camp. There is something about that experience that will stay with me forever. If you ask anyone who has been to boot camp, no matter when they went, who their company commanders were or any other question I bet they would spit out an answer without even thinking about it.   Plus, boot camp is where I found out that the limits I thought I had, had been all in my head. They don’t let you give up there and for that reason I was able to see my true potential.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The best part about my job is the friendships I have been able to have. We are a tight knit community and without our shipmates we would not be able to succeed. I will forever hold dear to my heart the mentors, mentees and friends I have acquired throughout my career because without them I would not be the person I am today.

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

Yes. There was one time in my career I wanted to give up and get out of the Coast Guard. It was at my first unit, 110’ cutter, when I was a non-rate. Our primary missions were alien migrant interdictions (AMIO), Search and Rescue (SAR) and narcotics. Onboard I was an engineer, Spanish translator, boarding team member (BTM) and the EMT. It had to of been maybe my second or third patrol when we intercepted a Cuban chug put together with four pool-type inner tubes tide together with rope. There were six adult males on these four inner tubes with paddles trying to make it to U.S. soil. While the crew was transferring the males onto our cutter, our crew was being (in my eyes) disrespectful and rough with these men who were compliant. Once on board, one of the men with a visible scar on his chest asked me to check his blood pressure. I told the migrant to standby and that I would be back. I went to go ask my command if I could take the migrants blood pressure and they stated “when he starts dying we will worry about it.” I immediately broke into tears. I immediately went to the bow of the cutter and sat there crying and in disbelief. Before this event, I had already been labeled the “sensitive female” since I always spoke up about how our crew was treating the migrants. They would tell me they were going to take me off of migrant watch because I cared too much for the migrants or because I was too nice to them. But this time it was different, because I cried and the whole crew knew! So not only was I upset because of what my command told me but now having everyone know I was crying would just add fuel to their fire about how “sensitive” I was. After about 20 minutes I went to my rack and wrote down everything that happened (I still have the piece of paper). A couple minutes later there I was asked to see the CO and XO. I went up and spoke to them and they apologized to me. From that day forward, our crew treated migrants with respect and dignity as they should be. They are still human beings. What kept me pushing through being called the “sensitive female” was the fact that I knew what they were doing was wrong. I had to speak up or else nothing would change. Moral of the story, never let your peers change who you are inside. Your peers can call you anything they want but you can’t let that affect you, especially as a female.

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

Absolutely, as a female in a leadership position sometimes one has to be hard on their subordinates’ just as any male leader would have to. However, when a female disciplines her team she is called the B-word, or they say “it’s her time of the month.” But when a male does the same thing they are just being a leader. Now, don’t get me wrong and think this happens every day because it does not. But on occasion it does.

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

I love to kayak. Fortunately for me, my husband and daughter love it too! I enjoy the tranquility of it and the exploration aspect. You can reach places with a kayak that one can’t with a boat or car. Plus, it’s a great activity to do with the family.

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

When I get home, I do not speak or do anything relating to work. I make sure I give my family 100 percent of my attention once I am home. I never really understood the “don’t take work home” motto until I became an ME. It is very important to have a good work-life balance because at the end of your Coast Guard career your family is what you have.

As a mother, do you ever find it difficult to balance mom life and operational life?

Yes. It was very hard my first year as a mother. I wanted to be the best mother I could and I wanted to be the best Coastie I could be. It was hard juggling both. The best way for me to balance both was to separate my home and work life. As soon as I enter my house, I do not speak or do anything involving work. My time home is spent with my family.

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

I would tell that young woman to do it! I would also recommend to her to decide on her own what in the Coast Guard she wants to do. The only person who truly cares about your Coast Guard career is you. When I first joined I was an engineer and I enjoyed it but it was not what I truly wanted to do. I wanted to do be an ME and do law enforcement. My command however was trying to convince me otherwise, and they did a good job. But not good enough J I kept true to myself and what I wanted to do and I am glad I did. I love my job! Don’t let anyone take you off your path. If you want something go for it!

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

One size does not fit all. What I mean by that is, as a leader you have to KNOW your people. You have to know what drives them, what angers them, and what manner of communication they are most receptive to. If you can answer those questions for each of your subordinates you will do well as their leader. For instance, there are some people who do not take direct orders very well so with those you could say “do you mind, doing …..” instead of “go do this.” Some need specific directions on a task and others do better with just an end goal. Either way you approach a member, you will get the same outcome if you know who each of your members are.

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

I have used TA many times and I love it! I am completing my degree online as we speak and it’s free! It is a very simple process. You register for the classes you want, you obtain a command endorsement (which can be a simple e-mail) and you get the benefits! Easy right? I do wish I would have taken advantage of TA when I first joined the Coast Guard though. I would have been done by now with school and possibly even with a Masters.

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

I have several mentors. I chose them for different reasons. Some I chose because I admire their leadership skills and I want them to help me become more like them when it comes to leadership. The others I chose either because they are in a position I aspire to be in one day or because they have a skill set I want to feed off of. One is not limited to just one mentor; you can have as many as you want. Never be shy is asking!

Please share your favorite sea story.

On one of our patrols we were able to do a swim call. It was a beautiful day out so most of us jumped in the ocean to have a little swim. On this particular occasion, we noticed that there were whales close by but not close enough to have to terminate the swim call. One of the guys decided to try to speak to them like Dory in Finding Nemo and started making some ridiculous sounds in the water. Before we knew it the whales were pretty close to us! It must have worked! Unfortunately, we had to terminate the swim call because the whales got too close.

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?

Never be afraid to speak up. The most junior member sometimes has a better perspective on things especially safety hazards because they have not reached the level of complaisance that some senior members develop from doing a particular job for a while. Never think that your voice does not matter.