By Chief Warrant Officer 4 Allyson Conroy
Women have served vital roles in the Coast Guard dating back to its predecessor services. Women filled the role as lighthouse keepers in the Lighthouse Service; during World War II women served as members of the Women’s Reserve – SPARS; and for nearly 50 years, they have served in the regular Coast Guard active duty and reserve ranks. Women have served aboard cutters over the past four decades, and today the service continues to increase opportunities for women to serve underway.
“Many of our older cutters were built before women served on afloat platforms in the Coast Guard, at that time there wasn’t a need to consider accommodations for women,” said Chief Petty Officer Ramona Mason, the Coast Guard’s enlisted women afloat coordinator within the Office of Enlisted Personnel Management (EPM-2). “Now that those cutters are being decommissioned and replaced by newer cutters, we are making berthing arrangements for women to serve as part of their permanent party crew.”
The Office of Cutter Forces is also working with EPM in an effort to create more opportunities for enlisted women afloat. One avenue has been through a new policy change for the 65-foot inland river tenders (WLR) that allows women to be assigned aboard those cutters that were previously staffed with all-male crews.
“This new policy allows women to move through spaces that were previously restricted in order to use a common space or the head,” Mason said.
Another recent change Mason is excited about is integrating three 65-foot icebreaking harbor tugs (WYTL) in New York. She said the 65-foot New York-based Cutters Hawser, Line, and Wire will be converted to create a berthing area for a mixed-gender crew.
“We’ve assigned women to these cutters in command cadre positions in the past, however, assigning a third class boatswains mate aboard is new,” Mason said. “For the first time, a woman in a non-command position has received orders to the Coast Guard Cutter Wire.”
In an effort to further expand women afloat opportunities, the Coast Guard has authorized a structural conversion for a minimum of three 140-foot ice-breaking tugs (WTGB). These conversions will create two separate berthing spaces for enlisted members as well as separate heads.
While the completion date for these conversions is in the works, Mason is encouraging women to apply for these billets now. “We know there’s a desire for women to serve within the 140-foot ice-breaking tug fleet, the question is: How much? If there appears to be a strong desire, there could be opportunities to support the conversion of additional hulls.”