Punto Final: The Power of Performance

By Captain Jo-Ann F. Burdian
Sector Commander/Captain of the Port USCG Sector Miami, Florida

On July 7, 1993 I stood on a hot parade ground and, with newly cut hair, swore an oath to the Constitution. It was my first day as a Cadet at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and, in fairness, it was a day I spent seriously considering getting out of the Coast Guard. The only boat I had ever been on was the Staten Island Ferry, and I was not completely sure what the Coast Guard was, but I knew I wanted to serve my Nation and I needed to find a college that offered me free tuition. Choosing to attend the Coast Guard Academy was the least-informed, best decision of my life. I would never have imagined that, 28 years later, I’d be back in my south Florida hometown in Command of one of the busiest units in the Coast Guard. In the intervening years I have commanded a ship at sea, briefed the President of the United States, interdicted illicit drugs, managed crises, and saved lives.

I currently oversee over 800 Active Duty, Reserve, and Civilian Coast Guard personnel, plus over 1,000 Coast Guard Auxiliarist volunteers who all work together to promote safety, security, resilience, and environmental stewardship in the waters that surround south Florida. I love my job, the amazing leaders I have the privilege to serve alongside, and the vibrant community we support. Looking back at every assignment, I remember so many moments when I made mistakes or felt intimidated or overwhelmed. One single decision guided me to success through those tough moments – I decided to put my head down and do the work. Sometimes the work involved taking a hard look at operations or processes; sometimes the best work was a hard look at myself and taking action to be better tomorrow. But it is doing the work – making a commitment to performing above the standard set for me – that helped me mine success in the U.S. Coast Guard.

If you choose to perform as an optimistic, productive, humble member of your team, you will earn the right to help shape your future. After 11 years on Active Duty, I could not align my personal and professional priorities and I decided to take advantage of the Coast Guard’s Temporary Separation program and spend two years as a stay-at-home mom. At the time, my husband and I were both balancing military careers and our family had grown to include our three amazing sons. It soon became clear that the best way to support our family was for me to accept some professional risk by choosing to pause my Coast Guard career and prioritize my family. When I returned to Active Duty, I knew it would take hard work to succeed, but – I did the work. And, as a result, I’ve earned several promotions, selection for a fully-funded graduate, and my current command, which has been the greatest privilege and honor of my military service.

I hope anyone reading esta punta final collects this single point for their toolkit- every one of us has the power to succeed; that power rests in our willingness to perform.