I would like to thank Danielle Medolla, 2014 Coast Guard Spouse of the Year, for taking the time to speak about some of the unique challenges faced by United States Coast Guard families. I hope that by listening to amazing spouses such as Danielle, we can all gain more appreciation, understanding, and respect for all branches of the United States Armed Forces.
LEOMilSpouse: How did you and your spouse come to be a military family (personal family story)?
Danielle: Rob and I met in college, he was working for United Airlines and going to school to be an aircraft mechanic and I was a legal studies major at St. John’s University. Our plans for the future after graduation were to move out to San Francisco (United’s maintenance hub) where Rob would work in maintenance and I would work for the government in some capacity.
Then 9/11 happened. On that very day, I was in lower Manhattan taking a federal agents exam, getting my ducks in a row for my pending graduation. Rob was across the river at school in Queens, across the street from LaGuardia Airport. That day changed us forever. I still get chills even as I type these very words.
Because of the economic impact after that day, the direction of our career plans changed. I never received the results from that test, United Airlines eventually out sourced most of its maintenance work to contractors and jobs were becoming harder and harder to find for recent graduates. I was bless to find work at the large law firm in lower Manhattan and Rob stayed at United for as long as he could. As the completion of Rob’s license neared, he started thinking about what he wanted to do. He took the NYPD exam in hopes to walk the beat for a few years then, move on to working in the helicopter unit.
But at the same time, we met new neighbors who were all Coasties stationed in nearby Sector NY. A few conversations and Rob’s interest was piqued. Looking back it’s hard to believe that we had no clue about the Coast Guard. Every other branch of military service was familiar to us. After all, Ft. Hamilton was practically in our backyards growing up, I attended the fleet week festivities every year with my family touring aircraft carriers and static displays. Watching aircraft carriers pulls into NY Harbor past lady liberty with sailors stand at attention on the deck, it fills you with pride. But what was this Coast Guard?
So with this new branch of service to explore, we searched for the closest recruitment office. Low and behold it is only steps from my office. Rob met with a recruiter and about 12 weeks later Rob was scheduled to go off to boot camp. The day before he leaves, Rob asks me to marry him. We plan our wedding through letters and marry the day after he graduates.
LEOMilSpouse: Tell me a little history about the branch you and your family serves?
Danielle: A little history provided by uscg.mil “The U. S. Coast Guard is simultaneously and at all times a military force and federal law enforcement agency dedicated to maritime safety, security, and stewardship missions. We save lives. We protect the environment. We defend the homeland. We enforce Federal laws on the high seas, the nation’s coastal waters and its inland waterways. We are unique in the Nation and the world.” What makes us extra special is that the U.S. Coast Guard is the only agency that saves lives. http://www.uscg.mil/top/about/doc/uscg_snapshot.pdf
LEOMilSpouse: What are some unique challenges that you feel your branch experiences?
Danielle: Coast Guard families are somewhat of the odd man out. We are sorta like the big 4 (Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines) in the respect that we are a law enforcing agency. Our members deploy or patrol both homeland waterways and air space, and assist with Navy missions. Where we differ is in our base support. Many times our stations are located in any town USA. Coast Guard housing is limited and not available in all locations, we rely on local communities to welcome us in and support us, much like the National Guard.
And while we are sorta like the other 5, we are completely different. Our deployments/patrols are shorter and much more frequent and that also changes with a duty station. One tour may have a member underway for 6 months at a time, returning home for a few weeks and heading back out, while another may have a member gone for 2 weeks to a month every other month. It is our small size, varied missions and constant integration into “normal” life that makes it very unique. But it is our challenges that make us strong. Currently living in Kodiak, Alaska, the largest Coast Guard base, I am able to see it clearly. I’m an air station spouse and my experience is very different then the spouse that is assigned to a boat. This tour has opened my eyes to their challenges as they are different then mine. I have renewed respect for their sacrifice and I am in awe of their resilience.
LEOMilSpouse: If you could answer/solve a misconception about being a military spouse, what would it be?
Danielle: That we are all unique and our worries are unique as well. I was talking with a spouse whose husband is on a cutter and working out the logistics of getting him off the boat due to a family emergency. She told me that just knowing that he was flying off the boat made her a little nervous. For me, my husband flies off the back of a boat routinely so I don’t think twice about it, it’s those many days out at sea with limited communication that worries me. We have all learned to accept and process the work related stress that comes with being married to a service member, but those stresses are just as unique as the individual.
LEOMilSpouse: What motivates you in your pursuit of supporting not only your spouse, but the US Armed Forces?
Danielle: I enjoy helping people. I enjoy working both angles, supporting my military families, but also enlightening my civilian friends and co-workers about military life. There is so much information out there it’s overwhelming. I like being that solid source for accurate information. I don’t know everything but what I don’t know I make sure to learn from a reliable, accurate source. As for educating civilians on military life, it’s great to be able to share my experiences with them. We all have good days when we love this life and the opportunity it has afforded us, and we all have bad days when we are upset about an upcoming PCS or deployment and it’s good to share those experiences with our civilian counterparts. It helps for them to understand our way of life and the unique challenges we face.
Thank you again Danielle for all of your time and insight. Please know that you, your husband, and all of your fellow USCG families are respected and appreciated. The branch your family serves provides a crucial role to the U.S. Armed Forces and to the citizens of the United States!