What does it take to become a Rear Admiral in the Coast Guard? Check out Rear Admiral Melissa Bert’s story this week on the Women of the Military Podcast. Melissa decided to join the Coast Guard because her dad had served in the Coast Guard and suggested she look into it. She attended the Coast Guard Academy and at the time there were only 10% women. Today there are approximately 30%.
Her first assignment was out at sea tour. She was on a smaller vessel so she would be out at sea for one to four weeks depending on the work they were doing. And she was the only female on the ship she was assigned to and she found time at sea to be very lonely because she couldn’t spend time with anyone on her ship. She was thankful the rotations were short.
After that tour, she was selected to become attend Law School in the DC area. While attending Law School she had the opportunity to attend social events at the White House. Her favorite event she attended was when Bill Clinton brought Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to the White House shook hands on a peace agreement. She said she saw Katie Couric at the event and had a chance to talk to her and she told her how nervous she was. She said attending that event was so cool because it was watching history take place right in front of her eyes.
The World Changes September 11th
She was stationed in Long Beach on September 11th and worked to help secure the port in Long Beach. She discussed how they quickly began to implement changes to help ensure the safety of the port. September 11th had a huge impact on how the Coast Guard secured the borders and our ports and there continue to be changes and improvements made to this day.
Command in Alaska
She was given the opportunity to take command in Juneau, Alaska. The Commander was being relieved due to a toxic environment. She went into the role and was able to change the culture. The senior enlisted members (Chiefs) wanted the opportunity to lead so she gave them the task of consolidating the base and was blown away by the results. Another interesting project was safely removing an old cruise ship that had sunk in the 1950s and was beginning to leak oil. They worked together as a team to work to remove the hazard of having a huge spill in the Harbor.
Becoming an Admiral
Melissa assumed she wouldn’t make Admiral the summer she was selected. And had already begun to start looking for her next step in her career outside of the military. She ended up getting selected and moved to Colorado Springs to work at NorthCom. At the same time, she was getting married and adopted their daughter. She and her new husband were separated and stayed connected through traveling back and forth and relying on the support of the on-base childcare. It was a crazy time. And after being separated for four years of being separated her husband has been able to move to be with his family. With COVID and all the travel limitations, it has been a blessing to be together.
Bringing Women Together
Melissa felt it was important to bring women together when she was part of the US Coast Guard Alumni. She realized many women were not participating and if they were they didn’t see themselves as a leader of the organization. She wanted to help build comradery and help empower women so she created XXX. The organization has now expanded and is working to bring more positive changes to women within the service. It shows the power of bringing women together and how real change can happen.
The Lasting Impact
Melissa is currently a Rear Admiral in the US Coast Guard. She currently serves as the Judge Advocate General and Chief Counsel of the Coast Guard. She leads a dedicated group of 500 legal professionals. They are responsible for the delivery of all legal services in support of the Coast Guard’s missions, its units, and its people. At the end of the interview, she talked about how the military changed the course of her life. And if you are planning to serve in the military know that you will change.
Connect with Melissa:
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