Enlisted Empowerment – The female perspective: MST1 Heather Stemmerman

December 19, 2017

Blog series created by Petty Officer 2nd Class Courtney Myers.

This is the twelfth in a series of Q+A blog posts highlighting enlisted female leaders serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Be sure to check back monthly for more career insight, mentorship and inspiration.

Please describe your daily duties.

I am the lead petty officer for the incident management division in Sector Juneau. My shop responds to pollution and all hazard incidents and threats, holding responsible parties accountable for environmental damage and cleanup, and protecting living marine and natural resources.

What is the most memorable moment of your career?

I would say the most memorable moment of my career would be when the Pacific Area Deputy Commander, Rear Adm. Meredith Austin, came to personally recognize me and present her challenge coin to me in front of my peers for my hard work. This felt like such a big accomplishment because she had more that 13,000 personnel working for her but took time out of her busy schedule to recognize me. What a cool thing.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love that being a marine science technician I have the opportunity to do many different jobs, so I don’t get bored with my work. I can do pollution response, container and facility inspections, explosive monitoring, weather, vessel examinations, event permitting, and emergency management utilizing the Incident Command System (ICS). Out of all these, I really enjoy the rush of an emergency situation and utilizing ICS to jointly respond to an incident in an organized fashion.

Petty Officer 1st Class Heather Stemmerman briefs the unified command during the $2.3 million removal and destruction of the World War II-era tug Challenger response in Juneau, Alaska, February 2016.

Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what made you keep pushing?

There have been more times than I like to admit when I have felt like giving up. I have felt like giving up on my career, school and even my marriage once. It seems difficult to keep going when times are tough and easy to throw in the towel, but you must decide that you will not quit. Some of the most successful people have attributed their success to all of their failures, and I can’t agree with that more. I have been through some things that people are shocked to find out and wonder how I could have gotten through it all. First and foremost, my family and friends have been my inspiration to persist and preserve; without support from them it would have taken me much longer to get through the dark times. My own stubbornness kept me going too. Winston Churchill once said, “Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” Everything important requires work, whether it is your career, marriage or something else. When we don’t give up, our characters are transformed and we become a stronger, better person.

Do you feel as though you have faced obstacles that your male counterparts have not?

As far as jobs go, I don’t feel like I have had to prove anything or put in more time to be equal with my male counterparts. I would say when I was pregnant I found it challenging at times. During my pregnancy, I felt that I was letting my team down because I couldn’t do all the mission functions that everyone else was doing. I wasn’t allowed to go on inspections because of the chemicals I could be exposed to and I felt guilty. Years later, I realized that I still did help with the mission, but in a different way: I did all the paperwork and plan reviews, which lifted the heavy burden from the team and allowed them to continue their inspections without me.

Do you have a hobby that you enjoy outside of work? If so, please explain.

I love everything crafty. When I have free time, I love to make vinyl stickers, wooden signs and etch glass. I like to have paint night parties with friends or work on a joint craft with my husband.

Is there anything in particular you do outside of your Coast Guard service to maintain your personal identity?

I live by the motto, “Don’t bring your work home with you” and the same for taking personal life to work. I make sure there are boundaries set between work and home life. Hobbies are another important factor: having something you are passionate about outside of work makes a huge difference. I also love to hike on all the amazing trails in Juneau, Alaska. Reading is another thing that I love to do and lets me have my own personal time to not think about anything else but the book I am reading.

Are you a mother? If so do you ever find it difficult to balance mom life and operational life?

Petty Officer Stemmerman and her family.

As a mother of a 5-year-old son, I can say there have been times where I found it difficult to balance being a mom and being in the Coast Guard. My husband used to also be in the Coast Guard and was gone on deployments frequently, which made it really tough to go to work, take care of a toddler and two dogs, and still find time for myself. There were times that I had to switch duty with others because I didn’t have an after-hours babysitter and my husband was gone. From experience though, the Coast Guard is much more understanding about sick kids, doctors appointments, duty swaps and the like. I know for a fact that the civilian workforce is much less accepting of all this. I am grateful that the Coast Guard and my shipmates have my back.

What advice would you give to young women thinking about joining the service?

Just do it! The benefits are amazing, the jobs are great, and if you want to see the world, you can. The military – and especially the Coast Guard – offer so many opportunities for job experience, and even if you don’t plan on making it a career, the experience you get significantly helps you in the civilian workforce.

What is the most valuable lesson the Coast Guard has taught you in regards to leadership?

Leaders come in all forms regardless of rank, age or gender. If you have a desire to lead, the Coast Guard and its members do everything they can to support you in that endeavor.

If you have used tuition assistance, please tell us about your experience.

I have used tuition assistance since I was a non-rate at my first unit. We had a teacher go on deployment with us, and we were able to complete a couple classes during our free time. I have switched colleges three times since joining because I found that I liked the online courses better because I could work at my own pace. I finally just received my Associate of Arts in October 2016 and am currently pursuing my Bachelors of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management.

Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you go about choosing this individual?

Officially, I do not have a mentor, but I do have two informal mentors that I call anytime I have a question about anything. Both of my mentors have made leaps and bounds in their careers: one is a master chief now and one went enlisted to officer and is a lieutenant now. Both have helped me get to where I am in my career and even coached me with my application of Officer Candidate School (OCS).

Petty Officer 1st Class Stemmerman is recognized as the D17 Active Duty
Enlisted Person of the Year 2016 at the Alaska USA Military Appreciation Breakfast, Feb. 17, 2017.

Please share your favorite sea story (that you wouldn’t mind getting published).

I had been on the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett for about a year and we were underway and one of our electronic technicians came up to fix something on the bridge where I was standing watch. I was talking about my high school reunion and my hometown when he asked what town I grew up in. Turns out that he went to the same high school as me and was in the grade below me with my brother and I didn’t even realize it. I actually saw him every morning at ROTC and here it was a year later that I was finding out. It made me realize what a small service we are in. I have been stationed with some amazing people and again stationed together and it just makes me grateful that I have a family in the Coast Guard.

If there was one thing you wish you would have known when you reported to your first unit that you know now, what would it be?

I wish I would have known that there are resources available to me. I didn’t know right away that there is a manual or guide for anything. There were times when people would say something and I would take it to be truth, only to later learn that it was not correct. I am now one of those people that look things up to verify for correctness. I wish I also wasn’t afraid of higher-ranking people on my cutter, because I could have learned so much from them and made them a great resource of knowledge and experience.



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