Zeita Merchant Becomes the First Black Female Admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard

Capt. Zeita Merchant is the first Black female admiral in the 233-year history of the United States Coast Guard, following her recent promotion.

In 2023, Merchant was named Rear Admiral (lower half) in the US Coast Guard. This elevated her to fame as the first African-American woman to be chosen for Flag rank in the Coast Guard’s 233-year history.

She previously led Sector New York and will now oversee recruiting and scholarship programs at the Coast Guard Personnel Service Center in Washington, D.C.

According to The Washington Informer, the Coast Guard’s promotion highlights its ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.

According to the outlet, the appointee has held several important positions, including Executive Strategic Planner for the Coast Guard Flag and Senior Executive Service Corps, Congressional Fellow for the Committees on Oversight and Reform and Transportation and Infrastructure, and Special Assistant to the 27th and 28th Vice Commandants of the Coast Guard.

Merchant only joined the Coast Guard to pay for her medical school tuition; she had no idea that she would join at all. She told the Clarion Ledger newspaper, “I always had this passion for service, but I never thought it would be in the form of military service. I really feel like this is God’s plan and not my plan.”

The innovator has a Master of Public Administration from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Tougaloo College. She has earned a Doctor of Business Administration and a Master of Quality Systems Management from the National Graduate School at New England Institute of Business.

Merchant is a Seminar XXI National Security and Foreign Affairs Fellow at MIT and has completed the Executive Education Leadership in Homeland Security program at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Merchant has received several awards during her over 20 years with the Coast Guard, including the 2019 Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration Outstanding Achievement in Public Service, as well as her personal military awards, which include “three Meritorious Service Medals, six Coast Guard Commendation Medals, three Coast Guard Achievement Medals, three Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medals, and four Commandant’s Letters of Commendation, Marine Safety

It’s not easy being a Black woman in the service, but Merchant, who has also worked as a National Security Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said she had support from her coworkers.

The Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) found that women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented at all levels of the US Coast Guard, especially in higher ranks. The study discovered that 31% of Coast Guard members are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to a 42% average across all services.

“We get in our own way because we think we don’t deserve the best based on where we’re from,” Merchant said when asked what advice she would give her younger self. “I would tell my younger self that you got to get out of your head, get out of your own way and the world is truly yours to conquer.”

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