First Lady Christens Coast Guard Cutter Dorothy C. Stratton

WASHINGTON – First Lady Michelle Obama today became the first-ever presidential spouse to christen a U.S. Coast Guard cutter during a ceremony held in Pascagoula, Miss.

It took the First Lady two tries but she successfully broke open the traditional bottle of champagne against the bow of the Coast Guard Cutter Dorothy C. Stratton, named after the first woman to serve as a commissioned officer in the U. S. Coast Guard.

Obama praised Stratton’s accomplishments, which included serving as the first director of the SPARs, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve created in 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The name is an acronym of the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus, translated as “Always Ready.” A spar in nautical terms refers to a supporting beam. Stratton is credited for creating the name.

“As a woman, and as a mother of two daughters, as an American, I stand in awe of her life of service,” Obama said of Stratton. “And after all these years later, all of us — whether you’re a woman or a man, Coast Guard or another service, whether you’re military or civilian — every American can be inspired by her example.”

Like other women’s Reserves at that time, SPARs was created to free men from stateside service in order to fight overseas. Stratton volunteered to serve in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite having no military background and a strong academic future.

“When a colleague at Purdue University said … ‘Dorothy, you can’t afford to do this,’ her reply was simple. She said, ‘I can’t afford not to,’” Obama said.

Obama told the crowd of about 3,000 gathered for the ceremony that Stratton demonstrated the power of a single individual to bring about real change.

Stratton traveled the country, giving speeches, recruiting other women, including, for the first time in the Coast Guard, African American women.

“To so many of those young women, she became their mentor; she became their champion and their inspiration. And she built them into a proud 11,000-strong Coast Guard Women’s Reserve,” Obama said.

During her service, Stratton laid the groundwork to break down the barriers of women’s service in the military and left in its wake a legacy that lives today, Obama said.

“It also freed a new generation of women to believe in themselves — as radio operators, air traffic controllers, parachute riggers and machinists. These women were strong, independent, confident,” she said.

After World War II, it would be another 30 years before women started to be fully admitted into the Coast Guard and other services. Now they serve as an integral and indispensable part of the military, Obama said.

“Today, women not only serve on ships, they command them; serve as Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard. They have proven their courage in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said. “Today it is absolutely clear for all to see that women in uniform are indispensable to the American military.”

While on her trip to the Gulf Coast, Obama also met with members of the Coast Guard helping in the oil spill cleanup.

Obama said she has issued a national challenge to America to support and engage its military families.

“One percent of Americans may be fighting in our wars and protecting our country, but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting our troops and their families,” she said. “Everyone can do something. Everyone can play a part.”

Stratton earned the Legion of Merit before leaving the Coast Guard in 1946. She died in 2006.

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