5 Coast Guard Women Learn a Lesson Outside the Classroom

by LT Taylor Carlisle, D7 Office of Public Affairs

It’s 6 a.m. on a chilly December morning at Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans. A five-member, female crew pulls on their long john’s and prepares for the cold journey.These five women (three pilots, one flight mechanic, and one storekeeper) gather in the flight-planning room and go over their cross-country trip plans to visit the legendary Coast Guard Lady and former SPAR, Lois Bouton, in Rogers, Ark.

Known around the Coast Guard as a former reservist from 1943-1945 during WWII, she spends her time traveling to Coast Guard stations across the country and writing a thousand letters to more than 300 units a year.

The trip would only take two legs each way in the air station’s HH-65C helicopter, the airframe utilized by the Coast Guard for medium-range search and rescue missions. In addition to Air Station New Orleans executing the most number of search and rescue cases of all the service’s air stations this fiscal year quarter, the pilots are required to complete training and minimums including Instrument Airway Trainers. What better opportunity to satisfy the semi-annual requirements than by flying the airways and paying respect to a fellow female Coastie?

After huddling in a circle for the mission brief in the now-brisk New Orleans wind, the five women climb into the helicopter, which will become their home in the sky for the next two days. Shortly after takeoff, the crew climbs to 6,000-feet – their cruising altitude for the first 2.5 hour leg to South Arkansas Regional in El Dorado, Ark. After landing, the women were met with smiles and hospitality by the wide-eyed employees at the airport. They had never had an all-female helicopter crew, especially from the Coast Guard, land at their facility. The crew filed the next flight plan to their final stop, Beaver Lake Aviation in Rogers and headed back to their helicopter to commence their second leg of the expedition.

As they moved northward, the terrain beneath the crew slowly changed from flat lowlands to rolling hills and then low mountains dotted with intense blue-green lakes and patches of snow. Prior to arriving in the area, they entered a set of GPS coordinates into a flight computer for The Coast Guard Lady’s house. When they arrived, the women graced Lois with their presence from the air, an appropriate aviator’s greeting. Three minutes later, the cold, but excited crew, landed at Beaver Lake and taxied into their parking spot.

An enthusiastic ground crew met the women with a van for their gear. As the women began tying down the helicopter, they noticed a group of people walking towards them from the airport. Lois Bouton, several Coast Guard Auxiliarists and some of her supporters and friends walked across the ramp until they arrived at the bright orange helicopter parked amongst a sea of white corporate jets. The air station crew eagerly greeted Lois with smiles and hugs, gave the guests a tour of the aircraft and posed for photos. Escaping the cold air, Bouton returned to her house in order to prepare for the crew’s visit to her home.

Following the initial introductions, the crew piled into a rental car to meet with Bouton at her house – a small museum packed full of Coast Guard patches, covers and letters from past Commandants.

They pulled up to her snow-covered house and rang the doorbell. Bouton warmly welcomed the crew into her home and had them sign-in to her visitor’s log – after which, they received a complete tour of her overwhelmingly impressive collection of Coast Guard artifacts and beautifully detailed stories of her history in the service.

The experience was an invaluable history lesson from a living legend. A couple hours and scrapbooks later, Bouton watched as the crew, unaccustomed to snow in the often balmy south, partook in a bruising, impromptu snowball fight in her back yard, replete with snow angels.

The day was long for everyone, and the crew piled back into the car to check-in to their hotel for some much-needed rest before continuing the voyage back home to bowls of gumbo, Mardi Gras beads and loads of search and rescue cases.

Before leaving Rogers the next morning, the women called in on The Coast Guard Lady one more time.

The crew arrived once again to Bouton’s home for coffee and cake. Once the jackets were hung, they were escorted over to her kitchen table when suddenly the women found pens in their hands and cards on the place mats. Lois shared some of her secrets into the art of letter writing as the women began writing two letters to Bouton’s friends who were unable to meet with the crew.

But now it was time to return home. The women departed her house with full hearts and a greater appreciation of female Coasties of the past who helped pave the continually growing path for the women in the Coast Guard, present and future.

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