Zeita Merchant to become 1st Black female rear admiral in US Coast Guard

The trailblazer will assume the new role in April.

Zeita Merchant is set to make history by becoming the first Black female rear admiral in the Coast Guard, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported.

Merchant will take over her new role in April.

Capt. Zeita Merchant will become the highest-ranking Black woman in U.S. Coast Guard history when she assumes the rank of rear admiral in April. (Photo by © Tanya Breen / USA Today Network)

“I always had this passion for service, but I never thought it would be in the form of military service,” she told the Clarion Ledger.

The Coast Guard, in a 2021 biography of Merchant, wrote that she is a “recognized authority in maritime safety and security, and crisis management.” Currently a captain, Merchant serves as commander of the Port of New York and New Jersey. In that job, she oversees the safety and security of one of the country’s largest and most important ports.

Merchant credits her success, in part, to her mentor, Olivia Hooker, the first Black woman to enter the Coast Guard. Merchant said she met Hooker as a junior officer.

Hooker “joined the military because she was fighting for women’s rights to join the military service,” Merchant told the Clarion Ledger. “Specifically minorities, she joined to prove a point, not only that we can do it, but we can do it well. I’m just a living testimony to her legacy.” Hooker, a survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre, died in 2018 at the age of 103.

Merchant, who was born in Chicago and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, as a child, spent time in several jobs across the country. She commanded the maritime operations across the southern tip of Lake Michigan and worked in port operations in Miami and New Orleans.

She holds a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate in business administration, and has taken seminars at Harvard and MIT. Her academic and business awards include three Meritorious Service Medals, six Coast Guard Commendation Medals, and three Coast Guard Achievement Medals.

“I really feel like this is God’s plan and not my plan,” Merchant told the Clarion Ledger. “I couldn’t even come up with this if I wanted to. My faith and my trust in him was what carried me this far, and I will continue to see what’s next… this is another door that has opened for me, and the sky’s the limit.”

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