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Enlisted Empowerment – The Female Perspective: YN2 Elyse Edwards

February 20, 2018

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

This is the 14th 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.

As an independent YN2 aboard a 225, my daily in-port duties differ from day to day. They range from approving leave in Direct Access, submitting Reimbursement of Missed meals memos to the SPO, raising Government Travel Charge Card limits for Temporary Duty (TDY) travel, digging into the Joint Travel Regulations for travel questions, approving TPAX travel claims, TDY order amendments, administering quarterly urinalysis, counseling members on pay issues, and personnel trackers. If we are underway, my daily duties include trying to connect to internet to get work done, filing, standing Junior Officer of the Day watch/helm and Damage Control drills/Navigation drills.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?

Being stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. I was a fireman aboard that ship and it was a great first unit! I learned how to sail a three-masted ship, train cadets in seamanship and leadership, live life at sea – all while traveling abroad. The Eagle was a good career development opportunity. Officer Candidate School classes came on board to sail/work for a week. During those sails, I would get to have one-on-one time with prior chiefs and first classes of various enlisted ratings so I had the opportunity to ask questions ranging from what it was like being an maritime safety technician to why they decided to go officer. It afforded me a lot of traveling opportunities, too. I was 19 years old, crossing the Atlantic Ocean headed for Europe. It was so cool. Hands down, it has been my favorite unit. Maybe one day I can go back as the independent YN1!

What is your favorite part of your job?

Being independent, that I am the sole administrative yeoman for the 48-person crew. It is fun and challenging! I like challenges, though, so that’s why I chose this gig (in Alaska, on a black hull). I knew being independent would build my knowledge and confidence as a yeoman, and it has! I kid you not when I say this: I learn something new every day.

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

I haven’t, being bound by a contract makes it nearly impossible to just get up and leave. Things change over time and usually get better. I haven’t wanted to give up on the Coast Guard because retiring at 40 is too good to pass up. I know there will be hard times ahead (as I have had many already,) but knowing and understanding that everything is temporary and will soon pass keeps me going. As humans we have the power of choice: choose negativity, anger or positivity and smiles. We are in control of how we react to situations and people. It’s not always easy, nor do I always choose right but at the end of the day this frame of mind keeps me grounded.

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

I just recently taught myself how to weave tapestries on a lap loom. I would see stores online selling these beautiful wall hangings, and I thought to myself, ‘why not learn to do it myself so I can have endless wall hangings!’ So I did. I learned by watching YouTube tutorials and bought a book that explains the different fiber types and weaving techniques. I now have three looms: a small, medium and large. It’s addicting and in a good way. Creating expands my mind and takes me out of myself. It’s a good way to block out what’s going on in the world and just be in the moment, creating. It’s been a fun, productive way to spend these Alaska winters and underway trips!

I also enjoy beach combing. There are a ton of beaches here in Kodiak, and many of them have treasures on them: metal wire, sea glass, net, line, fossilized rocks, drift wood – to name a few. Lots of fun stuff to pick up. I like to make “sculptures” out of the beach treasure. It’s also a good way to spend time outside with my dog, Reba.

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

Selfie of Edwards.

This is a good question and one that makes me chuckle! Only because I’m sure if you ask anyone on Coast Guard Cutter Spar if I have my own personal identity outside of work, they’d say, ‘she has one at work, too!’ I’m kind of an odd ball, in a good way. I was once called “anomelyse” because this person thought I am an anomaly in the military. I’m a twin, so most of my adolescence I struggled with “who am I,” or “how can I be different from her,” or “which twin am I in others eyes” –  constant comparison and identity issues. Finally, I realized and accepted (in my mid-20s) that who I am makes me, me. I’m always looking to build and grow myself in positive ways, but I try to focus on what/who I am rather than what/who I am not. Honestly, I just try to stay true to myself most days. To me that’s maintaining my personal identity.

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

I am not a mother, but I work with a mother. She is the strongest, hardest working woman I’ve had the pleasure to work with thus far. Handling an operational schedule while juggling children and a spouse isn’t easy, and I can see why a lot of women choose to not go operational because of this very reason. I personally do not go through it like she does, but I witness it. She balances it swimmingly even though I know inside she’s hurting and hates leaving her kids and husband behind. In my opinion, being stationed on a boat is hard for most people. Whether you’re single and have a dog, or have just a spouse, it’s a difficult life for all. Exciting and adventurous sure, but definitely hard.

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

My advice would be do it! Go for it! And take advantage of all the opportunities and training the service affords you. Travel! Get stationed somewhere you’d never thought you’d live! Be patient with the “A” school list, if it’s what you want, it’s worth the wait!

Decide, when its time, to stay in or get out. Don’t focus on the future, you’ll miss out and ignore the present.

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

Expect the worst, prepare for the best. My mom told me to never lose hope, and I think about how wise that advice is, especially since I work in such an unscheduled line of work. The ship’s schedule is constantly changing due to inclement weather, machinery status and/or change in ship’s status – nothing is ever set in stone. I’ve learned how to adapt and overcome mentally and am usually set up for success professionally.

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

My TA experience was smooth and easy! It was back when the tuition was covered 100 percent. I didn’t pass the class so I ended up paying it back, which is okay because it was totally my fault! Since then, I haven’t tried pursuing education in the Coast Guard. The experience taught me a life lesson: online courses are not for me. I need interaction and verbal discussion vice chat boards and virtual lessons. After this operational job, and depending on where I get stationed next and those job requirements, I may pursue higher education.

To close, I think TA is one of the many excellent benefits of being active duty military.

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

Edwards with her twin sister.

I don’t have a Coast Guard mentor. I have a lot of friends who I turn to that are in the Coast Guard but no “professional” mentor. I am a big family person, and I talk to my family a lot, especially since I’m stationed thousands of miles away from them. I choose to turn to them and close friends I’ve had for years for advice and guidance. They are the people that get me, know me, and will be 100 percent honest with me. To me, friendship and love is the best form of mentorship.

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

Spar was assigned the 2016 Arctic Patrol. We were literally/physically on top of the globe. The sun would set for about 30 or so minutes and be back up again. I was wearing sunglasses at one in the morning! Icebergs as far as the eye could see. Spar was headed north to help a NOAA technician replace and set a new weather buoy.

The cutter came to a standstill at a wall of icebergs that the commanding officer felt were too big for Spar to cut through. So we turned around. But, not before seeing a polar bear! The polar bear was about 400 yards from Spar and jumped into the water to swim closer to us. It stood at the very edge of the closest iceberg to the ship, stood up on its hind legs and raised an arm (we all said it was waving at us!). It was perfect/ironic timing as some of the crew just earned their Blue Nose (Arctic Circle) line crossing certificate. Best initiation into the Polar bear club! It was a unique and priceless experience!

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?

My voice/opinion counts, even at E-2, E-3. The lower enlisted is where the Coast Guards future lies. I wish I would’ve asked more questions and been more involved.

Are you in search of a mentor, additional leadership or just a push in the right direction? Do you have rating questions and need a brain to pick? If so, YN2 Edwards is interested in being a mentor and invites you to ask questions and share your experience. She can be reached via Global.

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