4 Women On How The Coast Guard Taught Them About Confidence & Conquering The 'Impossible'

The Coast Guard takes immense pride in saying, "We do more than train and wait. We train and perform on a daily basis." As I worked on this story, I spoke with many past and present Coast Guardsmen who have lived by this ready-for-anything ethos — along with the Coast Guard's core values of "honor, respect, and devotion to duty" — from their first day of service through their ensuing careers. They spoke of these values, and their time in the Coast Guard, with reverence. Despite the many and varied challenges that come with serving in the military, these women stressed that their service was invaluable, allowing them to gain leadership skills and take swift (but safe) action on a moment's notice.

Women have been serving in this military branch — or its 19th-century precursor, the Lighthouse Service — for some time now, and they now serve in every field at all levels. The Coast Guard opened all assignments to women in 1978, creating a unique opportunity for them to learn and build their skills while also serving their country. The Coast Guard does everything from carrying out search-and-rescue missions in treacherous waters to stopping drug runners off the Florida coast. As you might have gathered, many of the duties that the Coast Guard performs are performed in super stressful conditions, so many of these women said that acting strategically with hardly a moment’s hesitation has been essential to their success.

In partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, we asked some former and current female members to tell us about the lessons they learned from serving, from the practical to the profound. Read on for some real-life inspiration.

1. Lt. Crystal Barnett

What I Learned About Teamwork:

"Coast Guard Aviation has provided me with experience in small-team-oriented leadership, communication, humility, on-the-spot flexibility, and also continually highlights the importance of accepting feedback and providing it to others in a constant effort to be the best."

How It Changed My Life:

"How you approach a task during a mission or a flight tends to be how you approach everything. These aspects of the job translate well into life outside of the Coast Guard. My Coast Guard career has always been centered around a high level of training, followed by immediate operational application of these skills in the real world. The dynamic and often stressful environment in which we conduct our missions, and the high-level standardization required to remain safe, has a profound impact on my life."

2. Lt. Megan Dillon

What I Learned About Conquering The 'Impossible':

"Your approach to any circumstance can be greatly shifted by your attitude. A seemingly impossible situation can not only be conquered with a systematic approach and positive attitude, but the people you are leading will also feed off your approach (whether it is positive or negative). You would be surprised at the change and impact you can make when you simply have a good plan, expect it to change, and maintain a great attitude through the process!"

How It Changed My Life:

"My Coast Guard career has had me take on multiple roles — as a boarding officer enforcing maritime law, a deck watch officer driving a 270-foot boat, and finally as a helicopter pilot. It's instilled a lasting attitude to be ready for the unexpected. I've learned that things will never go as you expect or plan. But if you adequately anticipate possible changes, you'll keep your blood pressure low in highly volatile and changing situations."

3. Lt. J.G. Alexandria Trypuc

What I Learned About Being Prepared:

"I had the opportunity to assume a leadership position at the young age of 22, when I earned my qualification as a deck watch officer (DWO). In this position, I was in charge of managing a team of five people to safely navigate our 270-foot cutter. I quickly learned how to manage people, money and assets. As a DWO, you're forced to keep your head on a swivel and be ready to respond to an emergency situation. We trained regularly for 'man overboard' scenarios, engine room casualties, and fire and flooding situations."

How It Changed My Life:

"The Coast Guard delegates an enormous amount of responsibility to its afloat junior officers. This large responsibility demanded that I have confidence and excellent leadership and communication skills. I needed to ensure I was constantly checking charts, the bridge electronics, and avoiding potential collision situations. I also needed to form a good bond with the rest of my bridge team. Being the leader, I needed the trust of my people to achieve team cohesion and success. Having these qualities instilled in me so early on has greatly helped me since being stationed on the cutter and will continue to help me for the rest of my career."

4. Cmrd. Leanne Lusk

What I Learned About Confidence:

"Years ago, as a young lieutenant, I was assigned as the lead planner for the Coast Guard's role in San Francisco's Fleet Week event. At the time, it was extremely daunting, and I wasn't even sure where to begin. I started the planning process nearly nine months in advance, working with the main Fleet Week event planners and eventually Coast Guard reps for particular tasks. The actual event, which took place over the course of three days, I was the patrol commander directing all Coast Guard resources on the water to maintain a clear box along the waterfront for the parade of ships and the air show. You could almost walk boat to boat from the San Francisco waterfront to Alcatraz Island with the number of spectators on the water.

"While I certainly didn't have the confidence in what I was doing from the start, I became so entrenched in the planning process that I eventually knew every tactic and detail for the event. As with any big project, nothing ever goes exactly as planned, so I was forced to think on my feet to quickly solve challenges as they came up. Coordinating this event stretched my leadership skills, and watching my plan come together before my eyes boosted my confidence in my own capabilities (that I never knew I had)."

How It Changed My Life:

"My Coast Guard career has instilled in me personal confidence, determination, and perseverance. I love a good challenge, so I relish the opportunity to take on problems that seem nearly impossible to solve. I've also learned that teamwork, communication, and collaboration are key to making that happen. The Fleet Week assignment paved the way for many more projects, tasks, and special assignments over the course of my career and is absolutely responsible for getting me to where I am today."

This post is brought to you by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Images: U.S. Coast Guard; Lt. Crystal Barnett; Lt. Megan Dillon; Lt. j.g. Alexandria Trypuc; Cmdr. Leanne Lusk