Zeita Merchant Becomes First Black Female Admiral in Coast Guard History

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Rear Adm. Zeita Merchant achieved an historic milestone by becoming the first African American woman in the 233-year history of the U.S. Coast Guard to attain the rank of admiral. Merchant received the historic promotion in a ceremony at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, located in Manhattan in New York City.

This groundbreaking achievement is a testament to her unwavering dedication and exceptional leadership throughout her illustrious career that has been marked by a steadfast commitment to maritime safety, law enforcement, and community outreach. Merchant is heading to Washington, D.C., to take command of the Coast Guard Personnel Service Center.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Merchant and her family eventually moved to Jackson, Mississippi. While attending Tougaloo College in her hometown, Merchant majored in biology and had decided on attending medical school upon graduation. However, the cost of this endeavor weighed on her mind.

It was during this period of contemplation that she encountered a Coast Guard recruiter, leading her to explore the Minority Officer Recruitment Effort (MORE) scholarship program, the predecessor to the Coast Guard College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative. Discovering the opportunity to have her tuition covered, receive a stipend, and secure a well-paying job upon completion of college and Officer Candidate School (OCS), she found herself drawn towards a new path.

Her first unit, Marine Safety Office (MSO) - New Orleans, was an introduction to all things Coast Guard. The environment also provided support and culture that allowed Merchant, a junior officer at the time, to build a foundation for her career.

Over her 26 years of service in the Coast Guard, Merchant has held a number of assignments which included Marine Inspector and Operations Officer at Marine Safety Office (MSO) - New Orleans, Chief of Port Operations - Sector Miami, Executive Officer at MSU Texas City, Commanding Officer at Marine Safety Unit (MSU) – Chicago, becoming the first woman to command an MSU, and then Sector New York, becoming the first African American woman to command that unit.

"Reflecting on my own journey within the Coast Guard, I see it as a road less traveled, filled with unique challenges and unparalleled opportunities,” said Merchant. "Each decision to lead, each commitment to serve, has been a step on the path less traveled. These choices, often difficult, have shaped not only my career, but also my vision of leadership; one that fosters resiliency, promotes inclusivity, and values integrity above all.”

Merchant’s career most recently saw her as the Captain of the Port of New York. During her tenure, Merchant’s numerous achievements included leadership in response to multiple highly complex maritime incidents, achieving the highest utilization rate of Coast Guard Cyber Protection Teams, and the advancement of the service’s diversity and inclusion goals, yielding a 30% increase in recruiting and accessions during historic workforce shortages. Next, she will serve as the commander of U.S. Coast Guard Personnel Service Center in Washington D.C.