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Civil Rights News | Dec. 27, 2023

A Candid Look at the 50th Anniversary of Women's Integration into the Coast Guard

By Patrick Ferraris and Lt. Shirley Pilkey Civil Rights Directorate

As the Coast Guard commemorates the 50th anniversary of women’s integration into its ranks this month, hear from a few current Coast Guard women service members who provided a personal voice on the anniversary's significance.

Name: CPO Erica Pierre
Job Title: Enlisted Advisor
Unit: Office of Diversity & Inclusion

"To me, the 50th Anniversary of Women’s Integration into the Coast Guard is very special because in such a short period of time an incredible shift in the culture of the Coast Guard has changed toward women and the opportunities available to us. The women who paved the way in 1973 have created a space for me to thrive in my career, to reach for new opportunities, and to grow both personally and professionally.

When I joined the Coast Guard, I didn’t have to think about whether I was allowed join, there were no restrictions on where I could be stationed, and no restrictions on ratings available to me. All I had to decide was when I would join, what rating I was interested in, and whether I wanted a guaranteed “A” school or to enter the fleet first and explore my options as a non-rate.

To be first isn’t easy. You must push beyond boundaries set, challenging the status quo, and be willing to make your voice heard when others don’t want to hear it. To the women who courageously paved the way 50 years ago, to those who I have had the privilege to look up to and work alongside, and to those who have been the first, but won’t be the last – I am truly grateful and thankful their service."

Name: LT Ashley Vanstraten
​Job Title: OCS Instructor
Unit: Coast Guard Academy

"It is a representation of the Coast Guard’s commitment to diversity of thought and perspective in our Service, and a testament to the true value that women bring to the military. I’ve never felt like there were barriers to a career opportunity I wanted to pursue, and it’s one of the main reasons I picked this branch over others. I’m proud to be a woman in this Service!"

Name: LT Carter Boinay
Job Title: Marine Inspector
Unit: MSU Port Arthur

"This anniversary has been a wonderful opportunity to reflect with admiration and respect on the women who have paved the way these past 50 years. We have come so far, but there’s still work to be done."

Name: LT Shirley Pilkey
Job Title: Equal Opportunity Advisor
Unit: Civil Rights Directorate

"I have gratitude for the patriotic and selfless motivation that led women to fight for integration into the Service. Their pioneering contributions allowed me and countless others to have the opportunity to serve and thrive. To continue honoring this historic moment, we must work to increase retention and fight for all women to achieve their own success."

Name: CDR Colleen Symansky
Job Title: Commanding Officer
Unit: CEU Cleveland 

"We have 50 years of women who paved the way; who forged a path that enabled me to be successful in my career and become the first ever female Commanding Officer of my unit. It means I have the responsibility to continue this work and empower, train, mentor and lead our junior servicewomen to strive for leadership roles, excellence of craft, and in fostering a service culture where we never tell someone that their gender prevents them from reaching their goals."


Name: CPO Angel Leonard
Unit: CGC Bonito

"As I reflect on the 50th anniversary of women's integration into the Coast Guard, I am reminded of the women’s shoulders on which we stand. Their progressive nature and advocacy for women’s right to serve, in all rates, has afforded an abundance of opportunity and success."