Enlisted Empowerment – The Female Perspective: YN2 Amber Spear

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

This is the 16th 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 stationed at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach, detached working down in Richmond Heights, Fla. I am the billing clerk in the Base Miami Beach Transportation Office. I pay bills for the smaller shipments called DPMs that our office books in our area of responsibility in Florida from West Palm Beach down to Key West. I am also the person who extends and pays for non-temporary storage. I work with all five branches of service daily, and process their orders and paperwork to get bills paid. I am also the government vehicle custodian, and participate in color guard duty, watchstander for the gate, and I’m on standby to respond for the Personnel Support Team (PST) when a hurricane is in our area.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

I would have to say when I was the emcee for the 2016 Enlisted Person of the Year in Washington D.C. I remember standing at the podium as a YN3 and was told beforehand a master chief was usually the one who did the announcing and presenting. I felt very honored to be a part of that event, and I still remember when Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft sitting at the front table, leaned over to his aide, Mr. Canady at the time, and said “Is that a YN3 doing the emcee for the event? She’s the bravest person in the room.” It really made me feel so good inside, and while I was on the stage at the end of the event, he presented me with his coin, and I walked away with 11 coins that night including the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard’s coin.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is the customer interaction. I truly love helping people. Digging in manuals, finding the right answer and informing a member on their correct entitlements, pay status, and putting people’s minds at ease. While working on the PST for the Hurricanes Irma and Maria, that affected our area, I deployed to Orlando to assist with members and their dependents who had evacuated. There was nothing like telling them they had a hotel ready for them, per diem was going to be paid, and that they were safe. Aiding people displaced from their homes with nothing but the suitcase they had, was truly humbling and makes you appreciate this service and what it does for its people every day.

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

There were definitely times as a non-rate I really felt like giving up. I was stationed at a surf unit in Oregon and, being from northwest Florida originally, I was far from home. I was put into challenging circumstances with no background in watchstanding, boat crew, and then boarding team member. I remember thinking, I will never be able to accomplish all of this. Then the unthinkable happened; I took it day to day, met some amazing people who helped me through, and had an amazing first class boatswain’s mate who took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Whenever you find yourself feeling like giving up, turn to the people who are strong and respected at your unit, and dig deep within yourself. Putting the whole picture into perspective really helped me to realize it wasn’t forever, and to have fun while challenging yourself.

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

I do feel like I have faced some obstacles, but I have also learned the most important thing I can tell other women is to only associate with fellow shipmates and men who believe that women are equal. I have found myself to steer clear of negative influences and to turn to people who really do have your back and are willing to stand up for you if you are going through a hard situation.

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

I am a certified nitrox diver. On my free time, I love to explore new reefs, do underwater photography, and explore new wrecks. Being in Florida, it is truly a warm underwater aquarium where the possibilities of wrecks and reefs are endless.

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

I am very much so a girlie girl, so when I get to take off the uniform, I love nothing more than to dress up, wear make-up, wear my long hair down, and enjoy a nice day near the water. I find it hilarious when I ask for a military discount, and they tell me it’s only for active duty. The feeling of showing my active I.D. card and seeing their reaction never gets old.

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

My advice for women joining is to have a mentor or someone you’re close with and can trust to vent to and talk to about what you are going through. I cannot say enough how much the daily grind can really wear you down sometimes, but having positive people around you to lift you back up and talk things through with goes a long way. I feel like women are such a huge asset to the service and we add a great value.

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

I feel the most valuable lesson I have learned is to always put your people first. I have seen too many times in my career, leaders who do not engage or don’t find it necessary to hear how the crew really feels. It goes a long way when you have good communication at every level. I have seen a lot of miscommunication and a lot of stress could have been avoided if one email had been sent. I strive to keep people always in the know and to alleviate an already stressful situation.

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

I have used tuition assistance and completed my associate’s degree. It made me feel so good to finally accomplish a goal I had wanted for so long and to not have any debt when it was complete. I plan on pursuing my bachelor’s soon, and I am thankful I will still have my G.I. Bill available for when I plan for a future child someday.

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

I feel I have had different mentors throughout my career. I choose an individual based on positive vibes and leadership I respect and can learn from. We all go through challenging situations at every unit on every level, and having someone you can turn to and bounce off a stressful situation to be truly helpful in achieving positive feedback and constructive criticism.

Please share your favorite sea story.

I would have to say my favorite sea story was a time I was crew on the 47-foot life saving boat in Oregon, and we spread the ashes of an older fallen shipmate who was a resident near our station. It was so heartwarming to see his family on the shore watch as we paid tribute to his life and career.

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 would have known that life goes on. Funny to say that and look back now, but you will always make it through, no matter what the challenge or situation you are put in. At the time, I was an older non-rate and had already had a lot of life experience. I was 27 at my first unit, knew that I wanted to be a yeoman and thought it would be just a pit stop before attending A-school. Well, two years later, I finally got my orders, and during those two years, I was pushed and challenged to do things I never thought in a million years I would be able to accomplish. I showed up to my first unit, all of 35 people there, in a pink Coast Guard sweat outfit, and had no idea what I was about to face. Looking back now, I proved to myself that I could do it, and I wear my boat forces insignia proudly as a yeoman. Being a yeoman now, I appreciate the operational world a lot better, and I know that the men and women are out there right now facing challenges, rescuing people, faced with the worst weather, broken down assets, and the non-skid replacements. All of this which is needed to operate and I for one am so thankful to them.

Are you in search of a mentor, additional leadership or just a push in the right direction? Do you have rating questions and need a brain to pick? If so, YN2 Spear has expressed interest in being a mentor and invites you to ask questions and share your experience. She can be reached via Global.

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