Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron

Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron stands front and center with her Sector San Diego Reserve Enforcement Division, April 2015.

Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron stands front and center with her Sector San Diego Reserve Enforcement Division, April 2015.

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Gina Ruoti

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,” –John Quincy Adams.

Every year an officer, active duty and reserve, is recognized for leadership that exemplifies the Coast Guard’s core values and for their role in mentoring personnel toward their highest potential. Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron’s selfless devotion to others resulted in her selection of this year’s reserve Capt. John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award.

“Lt. Cmdr. Heron is among the most selfless and positive mid-grade officers serving at Sector San Diego,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Prebula, chief of contingency planning and force readiness at Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “John F. Kennedy once said, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ and that statement epitomizes what Lt. Cmdr. Heron represents. She works tirelessly to improve the personal lives and professional competence of everyone she leads and serves, successfully lifting them up and ensuring their success.”

Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron (left) with Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Prebula (right) during a Dining Out at Sector San Diego, Dec. 2015.

Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron (left) with Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Prebula (right) during a Dining Out at Sector San Diego, Dec. 2015.

Upon assuming her new assignment at Sector San Diego as the enforcement division officer in 2013, Heron endeavored to attain the numerous qualifications required for maritime law enforcement. It didn’t take long for Heron to realize that the reserve members in her command were an underutilized component in Sector San Diego’s law enforcement mission, and she was determined to find a solution.

“When I showed up in 2013, I inherited a division of reserve members that were highly experienced but did not perform any law enforcement functions,” said Heron. “I knew they needed a change. I started asking a lot of questions… and I looked for other opportunities that hadn’t been explored.”

Integrating her newly acquired maritime enforcement skills with her aptitude to lead others, Heron transformed her team into a fully qualified, mission-capable force multiplier, accomplishing hundreds of recreational vessel safety boardings and certifying 11 new Boarding Officer/Boarding Team Members. Their area of operation spans four states, 70 miles of coastline, including 40 regulated facilities, 41 environmentally sensitive sites, a strategic Navy port, and an international border with Mexico.

Another valuable attribute Heron possesses is the ability to empathize, especially with those struggling with distress.

“She developed this unique skill set by coping with the tragic and sudden loss of her younger sister,” Prebula said. “As with other inspirational leaders, she took a tragedy from her personal life and forged lessons learned during that difficult period into an ability to help others.”

“The impact of my sister’s death has been instrumental in shaping who I am as a person and as a leader,” Heron said. “If nothing else, it has made people a huge priority for me, and so I place intense value on the lives and happiness of those around me.”

Outside of her Coast Guard service, Heron served as a special project coordinator for the Anchor Center for Blind Children. She directed fundraising activities that raised over $66,000.

Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, Commander, 11th Coast Guard District, recognizes Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron for her selection of this year’s reserve Capt. John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award during a Reserve All-Hands at Sector San Diego in April.

Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, Commander, 11th Coast Guard District, recognizes Lt. Cmdr. Josephine Heron for her selection of this year’s reserve Capt. John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award during a Reserve All-Hands at Sector San Diego in April.

“It was a really awesome opportunity that came across my desk,” said Heron. “This school made such a huge difference in the lives [of these young children]. It was one of those feel-good things to do.”

All of her diligence and dedication to others didn’t go unrecognized by her chain of command. Her favorable contributions at the division level resulted in her promotion to the head of Sector San Diego’s response department.

“Josi is a special talent with a bright future ahead in the Coast Guard Reserves,” said retired Coast Guard Capt. Jon Spaner, former commanding officer of Sector San Diego. “I believe she will reach the Coast Guard’s highest ranks and am honored to have served with her.”

“She truly embodies the leadership qualities of Capt. Witherspoon and is destined for greatness in our organization,” Prebula said.

“We have great people,” said Heron of her department. “I have been honored to serve with a phenomenal team of individuals, and a very open-minded command that together have set the stage for the great things that Sector San Diego Response has done over the past three years.”

Heron accomplishes her reserve duty in San Diego by commuting over 1,000 miles almost every month from her home in Louisville, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and three daughters.

In 1982, Capt. John G. Witherspoon was the first African American to command a Coast Guard shore unit and the second African American to command a cutter. Witherspoon’s soft-spoken mentorship gently touched many lives, yet left a strong, lasting impression on all who knew him. The Coast Guard established The Capt. John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award in his memory.

The Inspirational Leadership Awards are sponsored by the Coast Guard’s Office of Leadership and serve to recognize those Coast Guard men and women who demonstrate proficiency in leadership and best exemplify the Coast Guard’s core values of values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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