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Coast Guard members from throughout District 13 converged on the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Ore., Dec. 11-12 for what may become the first of many conferences to discuss the issues and concerns of, primarily, women in the service.
The Women in D13 workshop, the brainchild of Storekeeper 2nd Class Amanda Distasio, was initially conceived of as an opportunity for female Coast Guard members stationed near Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Ore., to meet with and gain insight from senior female members. With an active duty contingent of only 15 percent, it’s often difficult for women in the Coast Guard to find others who’ve dealt with the sometimes unique pressures females in the military face.
“I was one of those junior females who had few women to look up to coming up in the Coast Guard,” said Distasio. “I thought it was important to enlighten senior leaders to what was going on with women in the lower ranks.”
Distasio’s idea eventually made it to the ears of Rear Admiral Keith Taylor, Commander of the Coast Guard Thirteenth District, and, in short order, the plan was expanded to include members from throughout the entire district. A panel of diverse and respected leaders and mentors including Silver Lifesaving Medal recipient Chief Beth Slade and Chief Mary Cunningham, the Coast Guard’s first female Chief Damage Controlman, was assembled and invitations went out to both men and women from over 40 units within the district.
“The challenges women might face in the service today aren’t solely ‘women’s problems;’ they’re challenges for the entire Coast Guard,” Taylor spoke, invoking the camaraderie of the service during his address to the attendees.
Together, the workshop’s guests and panel discussed topics ranging from professional concerns like advancements and sea duty assignments to more personal issues like family and the occasional isolation of being the only female at a unit.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” said Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Danielle Holland of Station Depoe Bay, Ore. “I thought this would be another death-by-powerpoint thing, but just being able to meet so many people from other units has been a real eye-opener. There are so many people out there that want to help you succeed.”
Based on feedback from the participants, it seemed the event was a success and chances seem good this won’t be the last such workshop.
“We just wanted to give women a chance to network and reach out to mentors and guides who may have been where they are now,” said Distasio who expects to help plan future similar events, possibly at the local unit level. “There may be a change in the format but, even if only one woman who attended made contact with someone she can reach out to in the future because of this workshop, I’ll call it a success.”