TEXAS CITY -Make no mistake.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Paige Wyatt may be the only female in the 25-person U.S. Coast Guard team based in Texas City, Texas, but she works just as hard, possibly harder, than her male colleagues.
In the male-dominated military, women have to be on "their game all the way," Wyatt said, but once you've proven yourself, you are, well, one of the team.
This August, the 2009 Sebring High School graduate's dedication as a maritime law enforcement specialist earned her a rare recognition.
Wyatt, 22, was honored as the American Legion Auxiliary's Coast Guard's Woman of the Year.
The auxiliary recognized her for her contribution to the War on Terrorism at the American Legion National Convention Aug 27 in Houston.
"I was in shock and honored to receive the award," she said in a phone interview from Texas. Her commanders nominated her.
"It's a pretty big deal," she added, and more commonly awarded to women who have been much longer in the Coast Guard.
As a maritime law enforcement specialist with Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Texas City, Wyatt conducts offshore vessel security boardings, shore-side patrols of "maritime-critical infrastructure" and joint law enforcement operations with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, states a news release.
Part of her job is to ensure that ships docking at the Port of Galveston have their paperwork and documentation in order.
The freighters usually dock 12 to 24 miles off shore, and Wyatt and her team members have to clamber up a ladder with 35 pounds of gear to get on and off.
"You have to climb up this ladder and you don't fall," she said.
Wyatt is an accomplished swimmer and wanted to pursue a career around the water and help protect the country without having to go overseas.
That's where the Coast Guard came in
She ended up graduating first in her class from the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy.
Before she was transferred to Texas, she had worked out of Northern California in the Coast Guard's search and rescue, responding to distressed people in the water.
She's also pursuing a degree in psychology online and will be graduating next spring.
Future plans include a possible career in psychology when she retires from the Coast Guard or being a Coast Guard recruiter.
"Paige's story is inspiring to us all and reminds us that courage and commitment to our country knows no gender," said American Legion Auxiliary 2012-2013 President Peggy Thomas. "We applaud the remarkable sacrifice servicewomen make in defending our country, and our freedom."
Founded in 1919, the American Legion Auxiliary is the world's largest women's patriotic service organization. With a membership of nearly 800,000, local American Legion Auxiliary units have a presence in more than 9,000 communities nationwide, states a news release.