Honoring her heritage: LT Celina Ladyga

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

 

U.S. Coast Guard Station Washington is nestled in a small corner on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. On top of performing everyday Coast Guard missions, it’s charged with the additional responsibility of protecting the waterways surrounding our Nation’s capital. Leading the cadre of Coast Guard men and women is Lt. Celina Ladyga, the station’s commanding officer.

Ladyga, who had been exposed to the military her entire life through her father, who served in the U.S. Army, received her commission in the Coast Guard upon graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2007. Since then, she has seen herself as one thing: An officer in the United States Coast Guard.

But it wasn’t always that way. Ladyga, who is of Korean-American heritage, struggled with her identity a bit when she moved from California to Newport, Rhode Island to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School prior to admission into the Academy.

“The community I grew up in was 80 percent Asian, and when I was growing up there they saw me as the white person,” Ladyga said. “They didn’t look at me as being Asian because I was mixed – I was only half.”

But when Ladyga moved to Newport, Rhode Island, and then headed to New London, Connecticut, she was met with a much different view.

“All of a sudden…people looked at me as that Asian Coastie,” she said. “It was very, very different perspectives – kind of a culture shock for me when I first joined.”

Ladyga successfully graduated the Coast Guard Academy, and went on to serve at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami, where she learned to look past the perceptions of others and that regardless of what gender or ethnicity someone may be, everyone brings value to Coast Guard operations.

“When I first graduated the Academy and was a junior officer at Sector Miami, I looked at that almost as being a disadvantage,” Ladyga remembers. “So if I walked into a room and I was the only female or the only junior officer or I was the only minority in the room, I used to think to myself, ‘Ok Celina, you can’t say certain things because they won’t take you seriously.’ I would really tamper what my true thoughts were in meetings.”

Lt. Celina Ladya, center, poses for a photo with members of her crew at U.S. Coast Guard Station Washington following an evening patrol of the Potomac River. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Lt. Celina Ladya, center, poses for a photo with members of her crew at U.S. Coast Guard Station Washington following an evening patrol of the Potomac River. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

What Ladyga realized, however, is that those things weren’t disadvantages at all – they were actually strengths.

“If you’re the only person in the room thinking that way, then you bring something to the table that no one else will,” Laydga said.

Ladyga admits that it did take a while for her to become comfortable enough to begin sharing her thoughts, but once she started, she found that more often than not, it caused the other people around her to take a step back and look at the perspective she presented.

It got to the point where if Ladyga was sitting in a room and hadn’t said anything, people would begin asking her if she had any different thoughts or saw things they were missing.

“I just wish I hadn’t spent so much time trying to conform to what I felt like the group wanted to hear and spent more time pushing myself to think outside the box,” Ladyga said.

And that lesson is something she has carried with her into her current role as commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Washington. She continually pushes the crew – and herself – to keep thinking outside the box.

“If you have everyone thinking in that same kind of mindset, you’ll never really be able to move yourself forward,” she said.

“That’s diversity in all senses – not color of your skin or cultural upbringing or anything else – but it’s really understanding that you are, whatever your background is, you bring something unique to the table that should be embraced,” Ladyga said. “It’s all in your delivery – in your ability to articulate why you are thinking that way and why it’s a valid point to bring up.”

As she continues on her Coast Guard career, it’s clear that Ladyga, despite being considered a minority, will always see herself as one thing: A Coast Guard officer.

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