A Time to Sink, A Time to Swim

A Time to Sink, A Time to Swim

Tanya Rackard (now Viglione) was never going to let a guy do a job she knew she was better at. She worked as a lifeguard before she joined the Coast Guard. Who cares if the guy was a state champ swimmer? Swimming in the ocean was different. Even though it took another female to take the designation of Shipboard Rescue Swimmer from her and hand it to a man, she would win it back by proving she was the stronger swimmer. It was a collateral duty but it was rightfully hers.

Seaman Apprentice Tanya Rackard in 1989
while assigned to USCGC Legare
(Photo from Tanya Viglione)

Tanya joined the United States Coast Guard in 1988 around the time women were just starting to be allowed on cutters. She trained as a Food Service Specialist and was assigned to the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Legare, which was commissioned in 1990. When an individual is a member of a Navy ship or a Coast Guard cutter when that ship or cutter is placed on commission, that crew member becomes a plank owner and Tanya is a proud plank owner of two Coast Guard cutters–a feat she says is rare for having served only short of 12 years. Her second one was from the USCGC Osprey, but her favorite ship was the USCGC Cowslip, a sea going buoy tender that she doesn’t hesitate to call “her” because “she” is SO TOUGH.

Tanya loved being underway–she remembers going through the Panama Canal, conducting search and rescue during the Haitian operations, jumping on hoses and saving lives during training on the Cowslip, and participating in the Northern Edge war games in Sitka, Alaska. She loved being part of a team, even though she was only one of six females out of a crew of 60 on the USCGC Cowslip. She loved being the sound control talker at damage control central when they would conduct drills and everyone would go on general quarters. She remembers impressing her superiors during a drill exercise when she fearlessly shoved a dummy and used it as a step stool to get her job done–a dummy that simulated a dead body if that were real life.

All her love of the sea would come at a price though. When she got pregnant during service, single during a time when military girls were stereotyped to be either uber-feminists or just looking to get married, she was told she was “a waste of Coast Guard time and money” and was even asked if she’d “considered all her options.” She kept her baby but had to leave her with her parents when her daughter was only six months old during the times she went underway. Tanya seized every opportunity, did as much as she could whenever she could, because she wanted to make a difference. She volunteered for everything because she wanted to give as much if not more than the guys. She learned a lot, grew up a lot, and she made sure that all that time being away from her daughter and waiting to be reunited was not in vain.

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