U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Amy Florentino's daughter, Claire, was only 6 months old when her mother was deployed, and she worried about the impact of her absence on her daughter.
Later in her career, when she returned for a change of command ceremony, 3-year-old Claire was extremely upset.
"All of a sudden, there's these sobs from this little girl in the audience," Florentino, now the officer candidate school chief, said. "The real reason is that she thought that I actually owned the ship and that I was giving it away."
Florentino's story was one of many shared at the "Women in the U.S. Coast Guard" panel discussion held at Mystic Seaport Jan. 12 in Latitude 41 restaurant in Mystic.
An intimate crowd of self-avowed "Coasties" shared laughs with the panelists, from Florentino's daughter's concern about the boat to Cmdr. Jessica Rozzi-Ochs' experience with an overconfident lieutenant during her time as executive officer on the "Eagle".
The new lieutenant had just arrived on board as a temporary officer after finishing a two-year Naval assignment on a destroyer. He was a little dismissive toward her coaching as he brought the boat into port, and she met with him after they docked to remind him that his actions were disrespectful and he needed to build trust with the captain rather than being overconfident in his own abilities.
"What ended up happening is that four years later, that young, arrogant J.O. happens to be my husband," Rozzi-Ochs said. "We laugh about it all the time now."
Erica Mohr, a retired Coast Guard commander herself, led the panel and asked a variety of questions highlighting their successes and the challenges of leading the Coast Guard, from marine safety and homeland security to training the next generation of officers. She pointed out that each of the panelists was wearing a different uniform, reflecting the diversity of jobs within the force.
Cmdr. Breanna Knutson, chief pilot and operations officer at Air Station Detroit, traded a few light-hearted jabs with the others as the only pilot on the panel. She said she came to aviation because the cutter she was on after graduation had aircraft deployed on it, but it took a lower scoring classmate being accepted to flight school for her to apply.
She said it can be difficult to keep pilots in the Coast Guard because many pursue careers as commercial pilots, but she tells them they'll have "that moment" where their hard work pays off.
She cited a search and rescue mission in Oregon during which her team found a fisherman who had been dragged off his boat by his own equipment. Another moment that stood out for her was a search and rescue that resulted in changing the Navy flight school's life vest requirements.
Capt. Jennifer Williams, office chief for commercial vessel compliance, was sector commander in Los Angeles when cast members of "The Finest Hours," including star Chris Pine, visited to learn more about the Coast Guard. When staffers at Disney asked her about her own "finest hour," she cited a search and rescue mission in which a sport fisherman had been found after falling off his brother's boat. The man, who Williams connected with after the rescue, had been in 68-degree water 12 miles off the coast for seven hours, and she read a first-person account he had sent her later that detailed his experience.
"There's no greater feeling than saving a life," she said. "It makes it all worthwhile."