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Kristin Werner Coast Guard's first female Chief Gunner's Mate - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Kristin Werner Coast Guard's first female Chief Gunner's Mate

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Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 12:00 am

Kristin Werner joined the Coast Guard in 1995 and like most guardians, completed her basic training in Cape May. Last year Werner, 34, returned to Cape May to become a company commander, responsible for training new recruits.

“I picked up my first company 15 years to the day that I was picked up,” Werner said.

Remarkable, yes, but Werner has earned another distinction, one she never gave any thought to. On Tuesday, Werner became the first female gunner’s mate in the Coast Guard to reach the rank of chief petty officer.

A gunner’s mate is responsible for handling and operating all kinds of weapons and weapons systems – from .40 caliber handguns, the M-16, shotguns, to .50 caliber machine guns and 76mm fixed guns mounted on ships.

This was perhaps an unusual choice for someone who never handled firearms in the civilian world, but perhaps a good choice for someone looking for “hands-on” work.

“I wanted a job that was hands-on, and I talked to people and this seemed like the job I wanted,” Werner said.

Gunner’s mate was established as a rating in 1797. Women have served in the rating for only the past 35 years. Of the 695 gunner’s mates on active duty, 37 (5 percent) are women.

“I love it. It gets really hands on, I get to teach other members of the Coast Guard how to use the weapons, I’m not stuck inside, I enjoy trouble shooting...” Werner said, her excitement evident.

Werner was born in Seattle, and enlisted in the Coast Guard in October 1995. She spent a year on the Ceremonial Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., and then went to A School, which is where guardians get training for their rating (job). She spent 10 weeks at the gunner’s mate A School in Yorktown, Va., studying electronics, hydraulics, weapons systems, and related subjects.

Werner did three tours in seven years on a high-end cutter. The Coast Guard conducts boardings when inspecting fishing boats at sea or when searching vessels for drugs or illegal immigrants. Werner said whenever they conduct boardings the guardians are armed, which of course applies to gunner’s mates.

In June 2010, Werner went to school to be a company commander, what other branches call a drill instructor. She graduated in September and picked up her first company in October. Werner was scheduled to pick up another company, Sierra 184, on Friday. The company, which graduates on April 15, began with 79 recruits. Werner is one of three non-commissioned officers responsible for training the company.

Before picking up the company, Werner would not sit down because she did not want her uniform to become wrinkled. Werner said she has always tried to look “squared away,” and it is all the more important as a company commander.

“It gives you some credibility. If you live what you are preaching the recruits see that,” she said.

Werner said the company commanders also try to instill the concept of teamwork and esprit de corps in the recruits. She said recruits are more apt to buy into the concepts they are trying to instill if they feel they are part of the group.

“Group training is easier for them than if they feel they are being force fed,” she said.

Werner said she expects to fill the role of a company commander for three years.

“It’s generally a three-year billet,” she said.

Asked about her feelings about being the first female chief in her rating in the history of the Coast Guard, Werner acknowledges it as an honor, but not one she regards higher than her duty as a company commander.

“Yes, it’s an honor, but I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. And I didn’t have to fight the battles that people before me did,” she said, referring to other women in the Coast Guard who opened doors for her.

Werner said women have all kinds of opportunities in the Coast Guard if they take advantage of them.

“It depends on what you want to do. There are resources and opportunities for a variety of things,” she said.

One of her role models is Senior Chief Crystal Sparks who is assigned to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Werner selected Sparks, along with Chief John Ruchser, to pin her anchors – signifying her ranks as chief – on her collar.

Approaching 16 years in service, Werner said she would remain in the Coast Guard for at least 20 years.

After that, I’ll take it a year at a time,” she said.

Werner earned an associate’s degree in military leadership studies and is now working on a bachelor’s degree in instructional design. She would like to eventually enter the advanced education program for a master’s degree in performance technology, which sounds like she could be around for more than the 20 years she mentioned. Asked if she sees becoming a master chief in her future, Werner said, “I’m not closing any doors.”

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