TAMPA — For 227 years, the U.S. Coast Guard had never had an African-American woman serve as an officer of any type.
That changed June 1, 1995, when now-Tampa Bay resident Doris Hull broke that storied institution's glass ceiling with her promotion from yeoman first class all the way to chief warrant officer.
In the Navy and the Coast Guard, warrant officers are skilled, single-track specialty officers. Their primary duty is to serve as technical experts, providing expertise and guidance to commanders and organizations in their fields.
Hull said her journey to this historic first began with a positive family upbringing in Miami. She is one of eight children. Her father owned a successful construction company which allowed the family to live comfortably.
"My mother only wanted boys, so I had to learn how to measure up quickly, and I did," Hull said.
After achieving success in school and developing a positive attitude in life, Hull enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in 1973 under the Direct Petty Officer Program as yeoman first class. At the time, she was married and had a daughter. Later, she divorced.
In 1978, after serving five years in the active reserves, Hull left her civilian job and accepted a two-year active duty assignment at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Just a year later, another momentous change occurred when Doris met a handsome chief warrant officer named Ron Hull at a bus stop.
"When I saw Doris, I had to find a way to introduce myself," Ron said. "I was leaving town that night and I thought I'd never get this chance again. So, I smiled, told her who I was and tore my name and address from the corner of one of my bank checks to show her I wasn't a weirdo."
Hull, laughing, said she first sized up her future husband as a "player."
Their first date amounted to watching the World Series. Many dates later, they married in January 1982.
Hull said her success and rapid progression in the Coast Guard was due to her ability to pass rigorous academic exams and handle difficult assignments, which earned stellar reviews from superior officers.
A difficult challenge came in 1980 when she left the active reserves. The Coast Guard approved her integration into the regular Coast Guard, but she was forced to take a reduced rank, which meant a smaller paycheck and a step in the wrong direction for this forward thinker.
This reduction did not divert Hull from her long-range goal. She immediately created an aggressive plan knowing she would be competing for future promotions against Coast Guardsmen with more service time and awards. Hull then transferred to the recruit training center in Cape May, N.J., where she worked hard and smart at her climb through the ranks.
After three years, Hull returned to Coast Guard headquarters as the first enlisted person to serve as the Women Afloat Coordinator for Enlisted Personnel. Her personal goal was to exceed the commandant's expectations, and she did. Because of the work and initiatives she started, women are now assigned to all classes of Coast Guard vessels throughout the world.
With her numerous achievements and after undergoing rigorous testing and intense competition from many men, Hull achieved her lifetime goal of Chief Warrant Officer.
Asked if she received any personal backlash for her historic success, she replied, "I realize in life, those who are your friends are always there to hold you up. And then, those associates who would try to put you down would be found out fast, and I too found out just as fast."
Hull served as chief warrant officer for 10 years, retiring with 27 years of service on Feb. 5, 2005.
She and Ron continue to serve the community as deacon and deaconess at First Baptist Church of College Hill.
"Doris is a lady for all seasons," said Pastor Evan Burrows. "She is the rock at our church."
Contact Mike Merino at [email protected]