Academy honors those working to bring greater diversity to Coast Guard

New London — A cadet, who leads others serving as the "go-to" for their classmates on topics such as race and gender, and a lieutenant, who has helped spearhead an effort to get more Pacific Islanders interested in the Coast Guard, were among those honored Saturday night at an awards dinner as part of the Coast Guard Academy's 42nd annual Eclipse Week.

First-class Cadet Alyse Westbrooks, 21, of Hampton, Va., received the Manson K. Brown Genesis Award given to a cadet or alumni "whose forethought and commitment has fostered a community of inclusion by establishing traditions and practices which promote comprehension of and appreciation for diversity."

Brown, a retired vice admiral and the first African-American in the Coast Guard to reach that rank, addressed the Academy Friday morning, and presented the award to Westbrooks in person. She said Brown's message on Friday of engaging and educating those who make discriminatory remarks really resonated with her.

"That's exactly my motto," Westbrooks said by phone Friday.

Westbrooks is the president of the Diversity Peer Educators, cadets who volunteer to help their peers on a variety of issues and provide resources to help them. The cadets receive training and wear pins indicating their role. As an underclassman, Westbrooks, an African-American herself, said there were some who undermined her because she is a member of a minority group. That motivated her to join DPE and take on a leadership role. She also started a newsletter that addresses various issues related to diversity.

"I was surprised," Westbrooks said of receiving the award. "I thought they were just little things I did around campus. I didn't know anyone was noticing."

Lt. Chrisitine Igisomar, 33, who coordinates search and rescue operations for the entire southern California coast, received the Joseph M. Vojvodich Award given to those who "foster a community of inclusion by mentoring historically underrepresented cadets at USCGA."

Igisomar, who is originally from the island of Saipan in the western Pacific, wanted to join a military service that allowed women to do every job, and in 2002 that meant the Coast Guard. After going to military prep school, she attended the academy, where she was the only Micronesian during her four years there.

"That was a lonely time," she said, adding that while she made great friends, she never wanted there to be another cadet in her shoes.

Igisomar reached out to the academy's admissions office and worked with the Coast Guard's recruiting office in Honolulu to reach out to Pacific Islanders, for whom the Coast Guard is a natural choice, given "navigation is in our blood," she said.

"These are U.S. citizens by birth who haven't been shown what is possible with the Coast Guard Academy," she added.

Igisomar, who is based in Los Angeles with Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach, said by phone Friday that she was humbled by the award, and that she hopes it will encourage other junior officers "to find a niche and make the Coast Guard better."

Other awardees include the academy's library staff, who received the Frances Neal Humanitarian Award given to those who go "above and beyond to provide support for cadets and the entire academy though facilitation of an environment rich in community and comfort."

Dr. Hallie Gregory, the first African-American head coach at the academy and a 2001 Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, was posthumously awarded the Coach Hallie Gregory Respect Award "given to any member of the greater Coast Guard community having a connection to Academy athletics who has excelled in actively demonstrating and promoting the unifying Core Value of Respect." His daughters accepted the award on his behalf.

j.bergman@theday.com

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