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Badass Women in the Coast Guard

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Faulkner, receives recognition from Rear Admiral Bill Baumgartner, Commander of the 7th Coast Guard District and Capt. John Turner, commanding officer of Air Station Clearwater during an awards ceremony at Air Station Clearwater. (U.S. Coast Guard/Tara Molle)
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Sara Faulkner, receives recognition from Rear Admiral Bill Baumgartner, Commander of the 7th Coast Guard District and Capt. John Turner, commanding officer of Air Station Clearwater during an awards ceremony at Air Station Clearwater. (U.S. Coast Guard/Tara Molle)

Think the Coast Guard is just about boats and rescues? Think again.

It's also a place for the most badass women to shine. Here are just a few who make Coasties look awesome.

 

Sara Faulkner

Aviation Survival Tech Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Faulkner was the first female Coast Guard rescue swimmer. (To be fair, two other women had served prior to that, but they trained in the Navy and then transferred over.)

The difficulty of the training and the duty are legendary -- and badass. People such as Kevin Costner make movies about rescue swimmers.

Faulkner was a champion swimmer who rescued 48 people during Hurricane Katrina. But her biggest challenges were not rough seas or possible death; they were the constant sexual harassment she endured at each of her commands.

After she filed sexual-harassment charges, her command referred her against her will for a psychiatric evaluation and then offered her a transfer to another command with no rescue swimmers.

Discouraged, she was on the cusp of leaving the service when a command master chief told her how important she was and that she was a role model for other women.

She stayed in, eventually retiring from the Coast Guard, but not before cementing her status as one of the baddest-ass Coasties ever.

Lt. Colleen Cain

A portrait of Lt. Colleen Cain. (Portrait by Leonora Rae Smith.)

Lt. Colleen Cain did not serve in the Coast Guard for very long, but she made an impression that many will never forget.

Cain was the first female Coast Guard pilot, earning her wings in 1978. She flew many important, lifesaving missions as a helicopter pilot, including the rescue of a three-year-old boy who had fallen into the water while fishing with his family.

It was that dedication to saving lives that put her on a mission in 1982 to assist a crew whose craft was in danger of sinking. Despite dangerous weather, Cain flew to their rescue. Sadly, she and her crew never made it, crashing in Molokai, Hawaii's Wailua Valley.

Not only was Cain a barrier breaker, she was also a role model for other Coast Guard women. Rest in peace, Lt. Cain. 

Lt. La'Shanda Holmes

Lt. j.g. Lashanda Holmes stands in front of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Los Angeles. (U.S. Coast Guard/ Adam Eggers)

When La'Shanda Holmes was just two years old, her mother committed suicide. Holmes was later adopted, but became a victim of abuse and was removed from that home.

She then went into foster care and bounced around until she was 16, when she met a loving foster family who connected with her and adopted her at age 17.

Holmes enrolled in Spelman College and took pity on the Coast Guard representative at a job fair because no one was visiting the booth. Soon, she was hooked.

She completed Officer Candidate School and, in choosing aviation, was shocked to find out there had been only one female African-American Coast Guard aviator before her, Lt. Jeanine Menze, who flew HC-130 Hercules aircraft.

Holmes became the first female African-American helicopter pilot in the service and went on to work as a special assistant to the administrator of NASA in a fellowship program.

For your tenacity, smarts and pioneering spirit, we salute you, ma'am. You are badass.