A Woman Has Never Held This Military Position Before - Until Now

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Since 1790, brave members of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) have been using their skills to protect America’s shorelines. As we celebrate Coast Guard Day on August 4, CircleAround is highlighting a particularly exciting development for the USCG: For the first time ever, a woman has been promoted to the highest-ranking legal position. That woman is Rear Admiral (RADM) Melissa Bert, a Coast Guard veteran who was promoted to this USCG position in April 2020.

Bert has received the distinguished title of judge advocate general and chief counsel of the Coast Guard. The role entails leading the USCG’s legal team, and for “all legal services provided to the USCG as an organization, to its units and people, and in support of its missions.” Prior to that, Bert served as the director of governmental and public affairs, where her main role was to lead communication with non-USCG organizations such as Congress, the White House, and media outlets.

She has helped prevent oil spills across North America, and she has helped protect Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach during the events of September 11, 2001. She is a recognized author and frequently writes about her time serving in Alaska, where she provides insights on the state’s economy and how the Alaskan Arctic can be a true resource for the continental U.S.

It’s a large amount of responsibility, but Bert has been set up for the task by her predecessors. Women have been a vital part of protecting America’s shores since the early 19th century, when many of them worked as lighthouse keepers. But it wasn’t until 1918, when the Coast Guard hired Genevieve and Lucille Baker — twin sisters who were part of the Naval Coastal Defense Reserve — that women were officially considered a part of this branch of service.

As of 2018, about 88 percent of workers in the USCG are male, based on data collected by Data USA. Despite the gender disparity, however, Data USA also found that women in the Coast Guard, on average, earn more than men (average respective salaries of $48,358 for male members, and $49,528 for female members). This is a small triumph in a career sector where men are typically promoted much faster, and more often, than women.

Another report from the RAND Corporation found that this branch of service is less likely to retain female members of active duty, with as little as 15 percent of women remaining past the 25-year mark. This is why Bert’s promotion is such an important part of not only USCG history, but American history, as well.

She is the first woman to fill this role, bringing gender equity to the highest rank in her field, and paving the way for more women to become uniformed judges and chief counsel members. It’s also part of why she helped create the Coast Guard Women’s Leadership Initiative, “a nonprofit that supports and mentors young women in the Coast Guard.” It’s part of the Coast Guard Academy’s alumni program, as a way to encourage young women to extend their careers.

Outside of her regular USCG duties, Bert is also a well-known adjunct professor at the University of Miami Law School, as well as at George Washington University, where she received her law degree after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy. CircleAround is excited to see what achievements Bert brings to her new role, and the new initiatives she will spearhead for women in her field as a result.

Tags: Groundbreaking Women, Gender Equality

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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