African American History Month: LTJG La’Shanda Holmes

Each year, the President of the United States designates February as African American History Month – a national celebration of both the accomplishments of and long struggle for equality for black Americans. In recognition of African American History Month 2011, the Compass has asked Coast Guard men and women about the valuable role mentoring plays in promoting both diversity and mission success in the Coast Guard.

This week, Coast Guard Compass brings you an interview with Lt. j.g. La’Shanda Holmes, the service’s first African American female helicopter pilot, from Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles where she has been quietly excelling in her first tour as a search and rescue pilot since pinning on her pilot wings in April 2010.

Lt. j.g. La'Shanda Holmes

Lt. j.g. La'Shanda Holmes stands in front of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Los Angeles. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers.

Coast Guard Compass: We’re focusing a lot on the role that mentorship has played in the careers of successful Coast Guard men and women. How important do you think mentorship is to a junior officer hoping to thrive in our Service?

Lt.  j.g. Holmes: Mentors are a MUST if you want to be successful. The Coast Guard is so diverse in the backgrounds of people that we serve with everyday. It’s that collective knowledge that we hold as an organization that cannot be kept to ourselves. The progression, future, and safety of the Service depend on it. I have had several mentors in the Coast Guard – such as Lt. Summers, Lt. Menze, Lt. Colbert, Cmdr. Durr, Cmdr. Platt, Capt. Baines, Lt. Cmdr. Merchant, Cmdr. Booker, Lt. Canady … and the list goes on and on. The thing that new members to the Coast Guard need to keep in mind is that mentors are not always going to seek you out. Sometimes you have to do your research and seek them out yourself. And, it is your responsibility to utilize them to the fullest.

Coast Guard Compass: Do you think mentoring has impacted your ability to successfully perform your duties?

Lt.  j.g. Holmes: In the aviation community, mentorship has paid dividends. Many of the pilots here at Air Station Los Angeles – as well as many of the enlisted personnel – have so much experience and such an advanced knowledge of the aircraft. I try to soak up a little bit from everyone here to help mold me into a great aviator just as they are. Doing so helps me to more quickly identify hazards, make better judgment calls, and apply my book knowledge to the aircraft and the mission.

Coast Guard Compass: Mentors have clearly had a major impact on your career. Have you or are you actively mentoring anyone within the Coast Guard?

NBC nightly news video

To learn more about Lt. j.g. La'Shanda Holmes and her inspiring Coast Guard story watch this week's NBC Nightly News feature honoring Holmes as part of the network's African American History Month series.

Lt.  j.g. Holmes: I do actively mentor, mainly because I know how much I needed it when I was new to the organization. An integral part of being a leader and honoring your profession, in my eyes, is giving back, serving and mentoring those behind us. Those we have the opportunity to mentor are going to be the ones carrying on the legacy of the Coast Guard and it is our responsibility to make sure they have all the tools that they need to take the Coast Guard to the next level.

Coast Guard Compass: Any advice you would provide to people looking for a mentor?

Lt.  j.g. Holmes: For those seeking mentorship – do your research first, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Sometimes the people that we think would be the best mentors really are the opposite.

Coast Guard Compass: Anything else you would like to add?

Lt.  j.g. Holmes: For those providing mentorship, first I say thank you! I’m sure it’s not always easy being taken away from your work or family to provide advice and guidance, but it is much appreciated. You never know, just five minutes of your time can keep a shipmate alive. Please continue to CHALLENGE us and provide opportunities for growth. Allow us to make mistakes, as well as hold us accountable. Share your successes as well as your growing pains. Prepare us to serve, protect and lead the Coast Guard.

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6 Responses

  1. MEC B. Rozek says:

    Mentors are important, however I would rather hear how this young aviator decided to fly for the Coast Guard, and how the other services are working with their female, African-American aviators?

  2. LTJG S. M. Young says:

    MEC B. Rozek,

    Thanks for your interest in the story. You can read about why Lt. j.g. Holmes joined the service in a story that was written when she first earned her wings, here.

    Unfortunately, I could not find any websites or links for how the other services are working with their African American aviators, so if any of our readers know of a good source of information please share!

    Very Respectfully,
    LTJG S. M. Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  3. Helmisforhome says:

    Back in the early 60’s, I was a quartermaster on an old buoy tender down in the Seventh District. Our crew was 100% white and 95% southern. (We had an electrician’s mate from Pennsylvania) Chugging towards port, we received a message saying we had a new SA waiting for us, and the message gave his name. “Uh oh,” said the bosun. “That’s not a white name.” We expected trouble but hoped for the best. And the best came to pass. The man was immediately accepted into the deck force and often went on liberty with them. There were also a few African-Americans on some of the other ships in port, and he socialized with them as well, of course. So, at least in this case, the transition from all white to a racially mixed crew went smoothly. And that’s a very small bite of African-American history.

  4. Commandant says:

    I enjoyed seeing the NBC evening news…great story! You make us proud…I’m glad you’re on our team! By the way…my Commandant’s Direction publication was released last week…even before I knew about this news story, I had included a nice picture of you (along with pictures of many other Coasties). I hope you enjoy.

    Fair winds,

    Admiral Papp

  5. Kingfishz34 says:

    Mentoring is very important because of the marking system mentoring maybe too late for me. I have received four no advancement recommendations. So with the CRISP going on it may catch me and that is the end of my career. During my US Army career there was an annual skills qualification test (SQT) that out weighed the marking system; this made up for the human opinion factor. Maybe the Coast Guard should also look at updated the marking system to be inline with the other military services. My advice to African Americans who join the Coast Guard is to go to sea right away and get the cuttersman pin. Hopefully, LT. j.g. Holmes will continue on from rotary to fixed winged aircraft to be a complete pilot. Thus life after the Coast Guard will be rewarding as a major airline fixed winged pilot. Get Sum ..LT j.g.

  6. Aniceto1212 says:

    My name is Aniceto McAllister, and as a man I know what flying means. And she doing it Outstanding