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Coast Guard’s first black female admiral

By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent

U.S. Coast Guard Captain Zeita Merchant has made history as the first Black female admiral in the service’s 233-year history. Admiral Merchant, previously commander of Sector New York, will now lead the Coast Guard Personnel Service Center in Washington, DC, where she will oversee recruitment and scholarships.

Merchant said she initially joined the Coast Guard with the intention of financing her medical education. “I have always had a passion for service, but I never imagined it would be in the form of military service. I really feel like this is God’s plan and not my plan,” she told the Clarion Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi.

Officials said the promotion highlights the Coast Guard’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. Historian William H. Thiesen notes that African Americans have played a crucial role in the history of the Coast Guard since its founding in 1790. “From the earliest days of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, black sailors served alongside their white counterparts, many of whom made significant contributions. during conflicts such as the Quasi-War with France and the War of 1812,” Thiesen wrote in a column for the Coast Guard newsletter.

He wrote that the rich and illustrious history of the Coast Guard’s African American service is filled with milestones of courage and achievement. From Aaron Carter, the first African American to die in combat defending the Cape Florida Lighthouse in 1836, to “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy, the first African American chief petty officer and ship captain, members of the Black Coast Guard have consistently breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations.

During World War II, the Coast Guard led the federal government’s first official experiments in desegregation, appointing the first African American officers and assigning black officers and enlisted men to the USS Sea Cloud. By the end of the war, 5,000 black members had served in the Coast Guard, with one in five reaching the level of petty officer or petty officer.


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In the decades that followed, African Americans continued to achieve notable milestones within the service. Thiesen claimed that Lovine Freamon and Bobby Wilks became the first black graduates of Officer Candidate School in 1954 and 1956. Merle Smith, the first African-American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in 1966, later received the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Vietnam.

In modern times, African Americans have reached even greater heights within the Coast Guard. Vince Patton became the Coast Guard’s first Black Master Chief Petty Officer in 1998, followed by Erroll Brown, the first Black Flag officer, in 2002. Jeanine McIntosh earned her wings as the first African American female aviator in 2005, and in 2009 , Felicia Thomas became the first black woman to command a cutter.

Merchant’s distinguished career includes key roles as special assistant to the 27th and 28th Vice Commanders of the Coast Guard, member of Congress for the Committees on Oversight and Reform and Transportation and Infrastructure, and executive strategic planner for the Coast Guard Flag and Senior Executive Service Corps. .

Her educational background is equally impressive, with a doctorate in business administration and a master’s degree in quality systems management from the National Graduate School of the New England Institute of Business. She also earned a Master of Public Administration from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Tougaloo College.

In addition, Merchant completed the Executive Education Leadership in Homeland Security program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and was a Seminar XXI National Security and Foreign Affairs Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

When a reporter asked what she would tell her teenage self, Merchant responded, “We get in our own way because we don’t think we deserve the best based on where we come from. “I would tell my younger self to get out of your head, get out of your own way and that the world is truly yours to conquer.”


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