First female Gunner’s Mate advanced to Chief Petty Officer

CAPE MAY, N.J. - Chief Petty Officer Kristin Werner, a Company Commander at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, has her collar devices pinned on during her advancement ceremony at the training center, March 1, 2011. Werner is the first female in the Coast Guard to be advanced to Gunner's Mate Chief Petty Officer. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lindberg.

CAPE MAY, N.J. - Chief Petty Officer Kristin Werner has her collar devices pinned on during her advancement ceremony by Chief Petty Officer John Ruchser and Senior Chief Petty Officer Crystal Sparks. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Lindberg.

Cape May – In today’s world it is exceedingly difficult to become the first person to achieve a particular feat. Add trying to make that accomplishment in the oldest continuous seagoing service, in one of the oldest rates, and you have quite a phenomenal achievement.

Breaking down that barrier and creating history is exactly what happened on March 1, 2011 in a small ceremony held at the Ida Lewis Auditorium aboard Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., when Petty Officer 1st Class Kristin Werner accepted her anchors and the title as, the first female Chief Gunner’s Mate.

It’s a Coast Guard tradition to ask two people who you admire to remove your old rank and replace it with your new rank. Werner requested this honor be given to Senior Chief Petty Officer Crystal Sparks and Chief Petty Officer John Ruchser who pinned on her anchors, marking Werner’s huge personal accomplishment.

While the gunner’s mate rating was formally established in 1797, women have served in the rating for only the last 35 years. According to Master Chief Petty Officer Timothy Wallace, the Gunner’s Mate Rating Force Manager, there are currently 695 active duty gunner’s mates of which only 37 are females, or about 5% of the rate.

Deciding to become a gunner’s mate was an easy choice for Werner because she knew the rate would allow her to work on mechanical equipment and would give her the opportunity to share her knowledge with a wide variety of personnel through weapons safety training and range training.

“After A-school I wanted an assignment on a 378-foot, high-endurance cutter, because they have the majority of systems that a gunner’s mate can work on and it would give me the experience I needed in my rating,” said Werner.

Gunner’s mates are small weapons specialists that work with everything from pistols, rifles and machine guns to 76mm gun weapons systems. They are responsible for training personnel in the proper handling of weapons, ammunition and pyrotechnics.

“I never touched a weapon before I joined the Coast Guard,” said Werner as she laughed about being from the suburbs. “As a gunner’s mate it’s not all about shooting, that’s only a small part of the job, it’s about maintaining equipment, teaching, trouble shooting and accounting for parts and ammunition.

In the 15 years Werner has served in the Coast Guard she has spent seven years underway.

“Being underway is one of the most unique jobs in the world,” said Werner. “I’ve been able to sail around the world with 120 plus of my closest friends and get paid.”

According to Werner unless you’ve done time aboard a cutter it’s hard to understand what it means or entails to spend months at sea with a diverse group of people all sharing the same core values and understanding the role they play at their unit and in the Coast Guard.

“It’s like being in an exclusive fraternity,” said Werner. “When you’re out in the middle of the ocean, you only have each other to rely on. When you pull into foreign ports, you have your shipmates to explore with and the opportunity to experience new things and build new memories, it’s priceless.”

Originally from Seattle, Werner graduated from Coast Guard Recruit Training in December 1995 with Whiskey 147 and is currently serving as a company commander. She graduated company commander school in September 2010 and is currently training her third company, Sierra 184.

“I made the decision to be a company commander when I was here in 1999 attending recruiter school,” said Werner. “We were allowed to shadow a company and I knew that being a company commander would be something I would accomplish in my career.”

CAPE MAY, N.J. - Chief Petty Officer Kristin Werner, a Company Commander at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, is presented her advancement certificate by Capt. William Kelly, the commanding officer of the training center, at the training center, March 1, 2011. Werner is the first female in the Coast Guard to be advanced to Gunner's Mate Chief Petty Officer. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lindberg.

Chief Petty Officer Kristin Werner is presented her advancement certificate by Capt. William Kelly. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Lindberg.

Training Center Cape May is where all enlisted Coast Guard members begin their career and take their first small step towards their futures.

“It is very fitting that this ‘first’ was achieved here at the training center where so many careers have begun,” said Captain William G. Kelly, commanding officer. “The young people that go through here have dreams of graduating from basic training and achieving the highest ranks they can. Today, they have seen a historic first and now they know that whatever they put their minds to can be accomplished.”

“I am extremely honored to be accepting the title of first female Gunner’s Mate Chief Petty Officer,” said Werner. “It’s a humbling experience to be standing in front of my company getting my anchors. I know that the shipmate’s in my rate work hard to advance and I feel that I was just fortunate to place high on the advancement list this year. I hope one day soon there will be no more female firsts.”

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