“I have always believed in working hard to provide a safe and inclusive workplace where people enjoy coming to work,” states Capt. Eva Van Camp, Commander, Sector Long Island Sound, who has been a proud member of the Coast Guard since she graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1997. A Korean-American raised in the northeast, Van Camp’s passion for community, mentorship, and representation stemmed from her distinctive childhood.
An American couple who worked as teachers and lived in Maine adopted Van Camp and her four siblings from South Korea. Van Camp and her siblings, being the only Asians in their community, experienced bullying and teasing growing up for looking different. She recounts, “Before I joined the Coast Guard, I spent a lot of time trying to blend in rather than embrace being Korean.”
“While I physically look Asian, my American upbringing shaped my identity significantly,” Van Camp shared. Childhood bullying and a lack of representation in her Maine community may have become isolating, but the strength of her identity hinged upon the unique contrast between her heritage and her family life. “While I did not grow up in a traditional Asian family, my parents maintained some of our heritage through our middle names (which are our Korean names), food, and education. I have learned a lot about Korean culture.”
These experiences, embraced and nurtured by her American-born parents, allowed Van Camp to find strength in her unique identity, and drove her to seek a future where she could embrace both parts of herself. She found this, and more, within the Coast Guard, where she has become an emblem of the representation she did not always see as a child.
The road to Van Camp’s entry into the Coast Guard was paved with the experiences of her adopted family, many of whom served long careers in the military. Her father was a retired Navy Senior Chief, her grandfather served in the Army, and her uncle, the Navy. Her late father serves as continual inspiration for her and, in her words, “has always been the best mentor and role model,” even while “watching over [her] from heaven.” Each of these family members instilled the importance of education and service in her and her sibling’s lives: “I saw the service and contributions my family provided to the Nation and wanted a profession of service where I felt I could make a difference.” This is what motivated Van Camp to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy.
In the beginning, Van Camp admits, she felt discouraged because Coast Guard senior leadership didn’t look like her. “I wasn’t sure if there was a place for me in this organization that I so much love.” True to her nature, though, Van Camp set about to create that place for herself. She quickly decided, “My mentors instilled in me that I must be more proactive about being a role model for this community, because people look up the chain of command to see if anyone looks like them.” Van Camp continued, “Seeing diversity at all leadership levels assures the workforce that all have the opportunity to advance.”
Van Camp has not only advanced within the Coast Guard: She has thrived. Her exceptional leadership and the positive impacts and change she has made to the Service, specifically for women and underrepresented communities, earned her the 2023 Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) Uniformed Services Award for the Coast Guard.
One of Van Camp’s standout achievements during the award period is the reinvigoration of Sector Long Island Sound’s Partnership in Education (PIE) program. PIE enables the Coast Guard workforce to partner with local schools and communities and act as role models and mentors to students, especially in large, underserved communities. She helped enable a team of over 90 Coast Guard volunteers connect with almost 2,000 students across four schools where the PIE team enhanced learning opportunities for and informed students of the many rewarding careers offered by the Service. Van Camp often joined on field trips to local schools where she would read Coast Guard themed books to her captive student audiences or invited students to Sector Long Island Sound where she helped provide tours of and answer questions about the Coast Guard’s MH-60 helicopter.
“The earlier we can introduce the Coast Guard mission to young folks, the better chances we have to cultivate the desire to serve,” Van Camp stated. “I have always believed the Partnership in Education program is critical to recruiting the best and the brightest with the values we expect. This is more important than ever,” she continued.
“I do what I do because I’m driven by a passion to inspire and mentor the next generation of the Coast Guard workforce,” Van Camp shared.
“The Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community fosters a strong sense of family, respect, and service, which is desired and valued greatly within the Coast Guard,” she said. “In order to reflect the Nation, we serve, we need a diverse workforce where every member feels valued and believes they are integral to the Coast Guard’s overall mission. This takes intrusive leadership throughout the ranks to provide opportunities to excel and retain the talent the organization so very much needs.”
FAPAC recognized Van Camp and her accomplishments during the 38th National Leadership Training Program on May 10, 2023 in Long Beach, CA. The FAPAC Uniformed Services Award honors military members who have made significant contributions to the advancement and promotion of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) within their respective services. FAPAC announces the honorees in May to coincide with AANHPI Heritage Month.