First female commander takes helm at Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment
By BEN MIDDELKAMP | The Pharos-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 4, 2018
Over the past decade and a half, Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Shafer has journeyed from station to station across the country, rising through the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Logansport, Ind. native now calls the Pacific Northwest home and is the first woman to lead a unit there in the 100 years of the station's existence.
Shafer took over command June 18 of Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment, located in Ilwaco, Washington, near the state's border with Oregon. She started her military career there as a junior enlisted officer from 2002 to 2006 at the station's National Motor Lifeboat School.
“I was learning the ropes of even just being in the military let alone learning the ropes of small boat operations," Shafer said about serving at the station straight out of boot camp.
Shafer has since then advanced through the Coast Guard, most recently serving as an executive officer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was also stationed in San Francisco beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and in Connecticut as a junior officer after receiving her officer commissioning in 2013.
“I had to work my way up the chain," the 38-year-old said.
Shafer said being the first woman commander is "humbling" and an "extreme honor," especially if she inspired someone to look past gender boundaries and to focus on their passions.
"The female versus male or the 'first this' I hope kind of fades into the past and we just move into the competent, experienced professionals taking over positions," she said.
When Shafer got an opportunity to command a unit, she requested Cape Disappointment because of its "surf mission," which she said is deeply rooted in Coast Guard tradition.
Shafer's one of four active-duty female "surfman" in the Coast Guard. It's one of the highest qualifications reserved for members who search and rescue in dangerous conditions. Many in the Coast Guard call it the "soul of the service," Shafer said. Now, she gets to join her shipmates in the "high-risk" missions at Cape Disappointment, in heavy weather search and rescue on the coastal waters and in boating safety and enforcement duties.
“Not only do I get to be the CO here but that I get to go out and perform that mission again is by far the most humbling thing that I could have ever asked for at this point in my career," Shafer said. "It’s quite an honor.”
As commanding officer, Shafer oversees 54 active duty and 23 reserve members at Camp Disappointment, the largest Coast Guard search and rescue station on the Northwest Coast.
Shafer said as she settles into her life in Washington, she and her husband have been fortunate to live or visit almost every state in the U.S., each rich in diversity and culture. They've also experience different wildlife moving from California to Connecticut to Florida to Washington.
“It keeps you on your toes," Shafer said. "We were laughing the other day that we moved from the fear of shark attacks while snorkeling to the fear of black bears while sipping coffee on our back porch.”
While traveling from place to place over the years, Shafer said there's "always something that's familiar" about her hometown Logansport — whether that's a meal at Mr. Happy Burger, running around Spencer Park or grabbing brass rings with her nieces at the Dentzel Carousel.
“It gives you roots," she said. "It gives you a place to call home and be proud of.”
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