It’s a dirty job and a woman can do it

By Petty Officer Third Class Tara Molle

Ponder this fact for a minute.

During World War II, the Coast Guard created the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, better known as the SPAR’s (Semper Paratus Always Ready). The SPAR’s mission was for women to take over administrative and secretarial positions so they can “release a man to sea.” Women had their roles and that was that. Fast forward approximately 30 years and the Coast Guard opens all officer career fields and enlisted ratings to women in 1978.

Not that long ago was it?

Times have changed and for many women in 2009, they no longer submit to the traditional view that a woman’s place is at home or in the kitchen. They can and are able to serve right alongside men in all of the uniformed services. Now the statement, “You work like a girl” has taken on a completely new meaning. What used to be more of an insulting and demeaning statement has become remark that most women ignore.

Chief Petty Officer Laura Freeman, a damage controlMAN (DC) on board the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, homeported in Seattle, has been hearing that she “works like a girl” her entire life; and that’s the way she likes it.

As a wife and mother, Freeman lives to stay busy and get her hands dirty while never losing her female edge at work. Freeman was one of the first females to advance to Chief Petty Officer in the DC rating. It is definitely not something she boasts about though; to Freeman, it is just doing a job she loves.

For Freeman, the most appealing element of becoming a DC meant the thrill of being able to build, create and fix things, especially when it comes to keeping her ship safe from flooding while at sea.

“The best part of being a DC is that there are little to no rules, so you can unleash the inner MacGyver in your heart and do whatever it takes within reason to make the flooding stop,” said Freeman. “I would have to say that my experiences as a DC are the same as all others in the rating. Our rate is so diverse that everyone finds something that appeals to them whether it is welding, carpentry, fire fighting or construction. I love the rate because it is tangible, at the end of the day I can see what I have built, repaired or created.”

If you were to have a conversation with Freeman about work, after awhile you might think you were listening to a guy talk about his daily experiences in “the shop”‘ However, a sweet feminine voice, long dark hair tied neatly in a bun, a little colored lipstick and just a touch of perfume gives her away.

“As a Chief now, I do not find it hard to be a female,” said Freeman. “As a matter of fact, it is kinda fun to meet people and have them say, ‘You do really exist! I have always heard that there were females in our rate but I have never met one till now.’ I just smile.”

Being a woman in the Coast Guard wasn’t always easy for Freeman. Time has changed and soothed the negative mindset many men used to harbor toward females in the armed services.

“When I was younger, there were many days when I wanted to quit but I always had a very strong support system that reminded me that as long as I do my very best every day that no one could ever ask more of me,” said Freeman. “I have been fortunate to have others in my rate who cared about me for the person that I am and believed in me on the days when I could or would not believe in myself.”

As Freeman speaks, her eyes seem to reflect those tough moments lived in the past and the hardships overcome.

“It has made the difference on those days when I wondered if the Coast Guard was still for me,” she said.

Thankfully for the Coast Guard, Freeman decided to stay through the difficult days and watch her hard work pay off.

“Some of the hardest tasks have been the construction and pipe fitting work that I was fortunate enough to do at the industrial shops that I worked in, not because I was a girl but because there is lots of heavy lifting and climbing or tons of nailing,” said Freeman.

Those were the best and worst days during her Coast Guard career. There were many times where Freeman would come home exhausted from a hard days work, but the knowledge of something built or fixed by her own hand made it all worth it.

“I always said that I would stay in the Coast Guard ‘til it was not fun any more and on the worst of days I ask myself, “What kind of day do you think the guy burning fries at a burger joint had?” The day that I feel like I have had a worse day than that guy then I will turn in my paper work to get out,” said Freeman.

Freeman must be having some pretty good days for she has no plans of getting out anytime soon. The only downside for Freeman is working on board a cutter that is currently not at sea. The Polar Star has been sitting pierside in Seattle for the past few years awaiting overhaul and refurbishment funds. The ship is currently undergoing heavy maintenance and restoration to bring the ship back to the active Coast Guard fleet.

“As far as being on the cutters, I love it,” said Freeman. “I truly miss the sunsets, late night watches and the comradery that you can only find while underway. As dysfunctional as you are, you are still one big family. Some of my best friends are those that I made underway on the cutters. You can never explain it to someone else.”

For many Coast Guard members, being underway on cutters creates relationships that closely resemble that of a tight knit family unit. Even with the ship’s comradery, times can be tough for the mother of two.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is something to be said for going home every night and being there to see your children grow and open their birthday gifts,” said Freeman. “I know first hand that being away from your family is hard for ALL parents, male or female.”

Freeman does her best to keep a positive attitude on and off the ship and whether at home or at work. Her jovial personality is infectious and it seems to spread to the people around her, especially for the other women on the ship.

“For the other women that I mentor I just tell them to remember that, ‘attitudes are contagious,’ both good and bad it will spread to the other people that you work with,” said Freeman. “Double-check your facts and speak with purpose. You are a woman! If you do the best you can every day, then stand by that. Do not be afraid to ask for help but never let someone do your work for you.”

Freeman plays the role of another female pioneer paving the road for the future generations of women in the armed services. Although she speaks modestly of herself, she never forgets the struggles and sacrifices she and other women before her had to make to get to where they are now.

Freeman lives by this motto, “You can never out grow the limitations that you place on yourself, so set the bar high.”

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