Veterans Day: These women are blazing a trail as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard

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Thursday, November 10, 2022
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Two women working to keep New York Harbor safe are also blazing a trail as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard. Kemberly Richardson has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Two women working to keep New York Harbor safe are also blazing a trail as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Captain Zeita Merchant is the commanding Officer of Sector New York.

"The obligation was three years and now that three years has almost turned into 26 years," Merchant said.

But Merchant confesses she initially had no desire to join until her junior year of college when a recruiter explained how she could make a career out of it.

"When I decided to take that path to join the Coast Guard it totally changed my trajectory. I was able to finish my education in every way I thought I wanted to: two masters, a doctorate, fellowships at Harvard and MIT," Merchant said.

Lt. Brianna Tonwsend works alongside Merchant.

"I think myself coming in with confidence sets the tone that even though I'm a woman, I'm here to do my job just like you are and I'm going to do it just as better, maybe sometimes even a little better," Townsend said.

Twin sisters from Brooklyn were the first women to join the Coast Guard in 1918, but still it took 55 years for females to receive active duty status.

Even in 1997, when Merchant joined, there were systemic problems.

"Everywhere I served I saw other women but they were juniors, there were no senior African American women in the Coast Guard at that point in time. So I really couldn't see what I wanted to be," Merchant said.

Townsend and Merchant say progress is being made through recruitment and initiatives.

Right now the Coast Guard academy is 40 percent women, a record.

"Our current commandant is specially focused on that. She understands that tomorrow looks different and so will we," Merchant said.

The NYC Veterans Day Parade will be broadcast live on WABC-TV Channel 7 and available wherever you stream ABC 7 New York on Friday, November 11 starting at 12:30 p.m.

MORE: Veterans Day Parade in NYC | Watch on ABC7