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Leadership at all levels: Lead from where you are

March 05, 2018

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced the DHS Leadership Year on October 1, a yearlong effort (FY18) to promote a culture of leadership excellence and highlight the importance of leadership at all levels. As part of the initiative, the Office of Leadership (CG-12C) will highlight leadership opportunities available, give the fleet tools and resources to support leaders/supervisors in effectively managing performance, and continue the leadership dialogue.

To continue the leadership dialogue, the Office of Leadership (CG-12C) will post stories from the fleet every other month highlighting a DHS Leadership Year quarterly theme. The second quarter has been designated “Lead from Where You Are (Leadership at All Levels).” Lt. Joshua Wofford, from Air Station New Orleans, embodies Leadership at All Levels when he found a new way to reach grade school students who may not know about the Coast Guard and its missions. Lt. Wofford started a video outreach program which has enabled him and the Station to share the message about the Coast Guard with grade school students.

As a junior in high school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do in life until I happened to see a Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter at an airshow in Virginia. At the time, I had no clue about the Coast Guard or what it took to become a pilot. After a quick search in the encyclopedia, I discovered the Coast Guard Academy and immediately filled out an application. I was so excited about the prospect of becoming a search and rescue pilot that I didn’t even consider applying to other colleges. I was eventually accepted and began my journey of achieving my dream of becoming a Coast Guard aviator. Although many years have passed since that day, I will never forget the impact that a Coast Guard helicopter at an airshow had on my future. As a Coast Guard pilot, I continually look for opportunities to share my love of aviation with grade school students who might not know about the Coast Guard or its aviation missions.

L. Wright, LT Vinh, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashlee Leppert speak with students in South Carolina. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

L. Wright, LT Vinh, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashlee Leppert speak with students in South Carolina. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

After Air Station New Orleans received a request to video conference with a kindergarten class in Alabama, I realized that video messaging was a powerful tool we could use to reach students around the country and give them a fun and engaging experience with aviators. I drafted a plan and presented it to my unit’s Leadership and Diversity Advisory Council that recommended it to the commanding officer. Upon receiving approval, we developed a video that demonstrated a typical helicopter rescue and compiled photos of various missions our unit conducts. We set up a few sessions with schools that consisted of a volunteer pilot and aircrew who spent 30-45 minutes sharing stories, talking about the importance of education, emphasizing boating and water safety, and answering any questions students had about the Coast Guard. During the first year, we talked with 1,300 students from 13 schools in six different states.

During one session, we had the opportunity to speak with a charter school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Shortly thereafter, the entire Baton Rouge area flooded, displacing thousands of residents and flooding the school. Some of the students we talked with were assisted by the Coast Guard or saw our helicopters fly over their homes during the response.

Cmdr. Tina Peña, Air Station New Orleans’ commanding officer, shares her experiences with students in Washington D.C. U.S Coast Guard photo.

Cmdr. Tina Peña, Air Station New Orleans’ commanding officer, shares her experiences with students in Washington D.C. U.S Coast Guard photo.

After speaking with a majority minority, all-female school in Washington D.C., the students talked about how surprised they were that our female commanding officer took time out of her day to talk to them about serving in the Coast Guard. Many of them were astonished to see that someone who looked like them had achieved so much. The teacher later informed me that one of her students expressed interest in becoming a Coast Guard pilot because of our program.

While a video outreach program might not be beneficial to everyone, I think it’s a great opportunity to inspire talented students who could one day become the future of the Coast Guard. You never know how your seemingly small actions can help an encyclopedia-toting student achieve dreams they never knew existed. I am forever grateful to the leadership at Air Station New Orleans for giving me and my colleagues the support necessary to influence students around the country. We couldn’t have done it without them!

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