News: Rear Adm. Althea Coetzee – 'Reach for the stars!'
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Lawn
NEW KABUL COMPOUND, Afghanistan – It was 1985. The U.N. General Assembly was celebrating its final year of the U.N. Decade for Women. Nairobi was hosting “Equality, Development and Peace” at the Third World Conference on women, and the sixth class of females were graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. Midshipman Althea “Allie” Coetzee stood proudly in that graduating crowd and was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy.
Coetzee directly attributes her making it to, and graduating successfully from the academy, to her positive upbringing. In a speech to a packed crowd in celebration of International Women’s Day at New Kabul Compound, March 8, Coetzee told the audience how her father and mother both instilled in her three fundamental concepts.
The first is that anything worth having in life is worth working for; the second, that she could do anything she set her mind to, and finally, trust in God.
For Coetzee, these concepts made her truly believe that anything in life, and worth setting goals for, is in the realm of possibility.
Nearly 29 years after graduating the academy, Coetzee still reflects on those fundamental concepts. Today, she proudly wears the rank and carries the title of Rear Adm. Althea “Allie” H. Coetzee, director, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, Operational Contract Support. She is assigned to International Security and Assistance Force based at New Kabul Compound, Afghanistan.
“We are responsible for accountability and drawdown of Department of Defense contractors supporting Operation Enduring Freedom,” she explains. Today, Coetzee’s mission is to ensure they are drawing down in relation to the reduction of U.S. forces in theater.
Coetzee granted 1st TSC public affairs the opportunity to interview her in commemoration of Women’s History Month, here is her story::
1st TSC: Can you tell me a little more about your experiences at the U.S. Naval Academy, what was the climate like for females in the academy?
Coetzee: “It was a time of transition and change… at the time I entered, I had no idea of what was in store for me, and it was pretty exciting. I felt like I was a trailblazer even though I was not even a first generation … It was something that I was glad I did; it led me to where I am today.”
She went on, describing the quality of the leadership at the academy at the time.
"Our commandant of midshipmen and several of the battalion officers were former Vietnam prisoners of war… The perspective of their experiences gave me a very solid foundation in leadership.”
1st TSC: Can you tell me a little about your assignments, mission and job duties?
Coetzee: I started my career in the Navy with a designation as a supply corps officer... the Navy’s logisticians.
My first assignment was the USS Jason, a repair ship out of San Diego. I was a West Coast sailor and we were primarily in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Coetzee’s first tour on the USS Jason was just the beginning of a long string of successes. According to the Woman’s Day speech, again, Coetzee felt that timing was on her side. Her commanding officer believed in the team accomplishing the mission as a team. She added that because of his leadership in the command, he offered her growth and leadership opportunities that most women, and especially supply corps officers, at the time, only wish they had a chance at.
But Coetzee did not really feel that chance was the only thing leading her. She described that her sense of faith, luck and timing seemed to be a re-occuring theme throughout her career.
Her second assignment took her to the Hospital Ship Mercy during the Persian Gulf War. On the Mercy, Coetzee was food service officer.
Though, in her own words, not a very glamorous job, she had the opportunity to serve the first real meal to newly released U.S. Prisoners of War from Iraq. She even had a chance to reunite with an old academy classmate who was badly injured as a POW.
In her eight years of active duty she served three tours on three separate ships. In 1993, Coetzee left active duty and entered the civilian world serving the Navy as a reservist on drill weekends.
1st TSC: 9/11… What did you think, what were your feelings?
Coetzee: It was Tuesday, 6 a.m. my time… Sept. 11th… [silence]
Coetzee was recalled to active duty and given 36 hours to report. Her return to an active duty Navy career forced her out of what she felt was a dream job, though she mourned her loss, she stayed in the Navy.
Coetzee has been on reserve and active duty assignments ever since. In her mind, her faith, deployment and return to a Navy career have propelled her to the successes of today.
In parting words, Coetzee said, “the opportunities [for women] are there, and we have certainly come a long way since I was commissioned.”
“Reach for the stars!”