Port of NY’s Capt. Zeita Merchant to become highest-ranking Black woman in Coast Guard history

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Capt. Zeita Merchant, a groundbreaking commanding officer with the U.S. Coast Guard, was honored for her historic upcoming promotion at a ceremony at Staten Island Borough Hall on Friday.

Merchant, the commander of the Port of New York, will soon become the highest-ranking Black woman in the Coast Guard’s 233-year history as she attains the rank of rear admiral in April.

To celebrate such a momentous accomplishment, Borough President Vito Fossella issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 2 “Captain Zeita Merchant Day” on Staten Island.

“Every once in a while, people might get down, people get gloom and doom, and then along come people like Captain Merchant to remind us that we live in the greatest country in the world,” Fossella said at the ceremony, which was live-streamed on Facebook. “On behalf of my family and the 500,000 people of Staten Island, we say ‘thank God you’re here,’ and we wish you the very best.”

Merchant, who’s currently responsible for ensuring the safety and security of one of the nation’s busiest and most economically important port complexes, thanked Fossella for the honor while acknowledging all the Coast Guard members who helped her through her nearly 25-year career.

“While this is historic and I will soon be the first African American female to wear a star … what you presented today, it may be for me, but it is not about me,” Merchant told Fossella.

“The journey that I’ve had has been one of sacrifice, perseverance and hard work,” she continued. “But I could not have gotten here without the people from the day I walked in the door in my first unit, or the day that I started boot camp, that embraced me and made sure that the Coast Guard was where I wanted to be and should be,” she said.

Merchant’s nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2023. She will assume the rank during the Coast Guard’s Change of Command exercises in April, and take over a new post in Washington, D.C.