The gunner’s mate rating in the Coast Guard has been around for 230 years and has never had a female in the senior-most leadership position. That is until now.
Laurie A. Kennedy became the first-ever female to become a master chief in the gunner’s mate rating and the rating force master chief, the primary advisor and advocate for the job field, on July 21, 2020.
Known to be exceptional marksmen and firearms instructors, gunner’s mates work with all types of ordnance, from handguns and rifles to shipboard cannons, and have been a part of Coast Guard history since the very beginning.
“When I joined I just wanted to be impactful,” said Kennedy. “I never would have imagined that I would be pinning on master chief and breaking a ceiling. I’ve worked with those who believed that women shouldn’t be allowed to work in the Coast Guard but I also know that there have been women before me that have helped pave this path.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Kennedy enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserves in 1999 and attended Gunner’s Mate “A” School. She graduated as a petty officer 3rd class gunner’s mate in July 2001.
After the events of September 11, 2001, Kennedy received orders to the New York Detachment Sandy Hook Armory for two years. Upon the completion of that contract, she accepted the opportunity to join the Coast Guard full time as an active duty member.
How Kennedy became an active duty member due to 9/11 can be likened to another significant event in Coast Guard women’s history that took place during World War II.
The Coast Guard first allowed women to serve in 1942 with the creation of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, also known as the SPARs (Semper Paratus, Always Ready). It wasn’t until 36 years later in 1978 that women were able to serve in every position within the Coast Guard.
“When I first came in there was no diversity,” said Kennedy. “At the time I was fortunate because I did have another female in the class with me. Once I actually got into the field I never saw another female GM for years.”
Aware that she was significantly underrepresented in her field, Kennedy took this as a personal challenge to look inward and push herself to succeed.
“Find the opportunity in the difficult situations,” said Kennedy. “Appreciate the hardships — learn and believe in yourself.”
Although Kennedy states she is honored to be the first female GM master chief, she said that her leadership goals will be geared toward the benefit of everyone in the rating.
“I know this is all because I’m a female, but the rate is important,” said Kennedy “The people are important, every person in the rate is important no matter what their gender is.”
Kennedy has worked earnestly to be at the top of her field. She never assimilated to what she thought she had to be and did not act as if she was disadvantaged based on her gender.
“I’ve had multiple mentors in the Coast Guard when I first came in,” said Kennedy. “I thought I had to work twice as hard to prove I was half as good because I was a female, but what they taught me was to be me, being me is good enough.”