Return to Headlines

JPS Alum Zeita Merchant Making Coast Guard History

November 13, 2019

Paul Willis, Charles Lesure, Zeita Merchant, Regla Perry
Participating in the program honoring Zeita Merchant are (from left) Col. (Ret.) Paul Willis, Asst. Principal Charles Lesure, Cmdr. (Promotable) Merchant, and Col. (Ret.) Regal Perry.

Lanier High School welcomed home graduate Zeita Merchant to honor her for her most recent accomplishment in the United States Coast Guard. A 22-year veteran of the Guard, Merchant has been selected for promotion from commander to captain. This will make her only the third African American female captain in Coast Guard history. To recognize this and her other extraordinary accomplishments, the City of Jackson presented a resolution at the request of Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes. Led by the Lanier High School JROTC, the program to honor Merchant included an introduction by JROTC instructor Col. (Ret.) Regal Perry and remarks by District JROTC Director Col. (Ret.) Paul Willis as well as Cmdr. (Promotable) Merchant.

"In the Coast Guard, presently, there are only two African American female captains," said Willis. "She [Merchant] is about to be promoted to the grade of O-6, and that's a history-making position. But she has earned that. She's earned it through her performance in every capacity. She's earned it through her educational endeavors. We are proud to call her one of our own."

"Thank you for this great honor," said Merchant. "It's so important to me that I've gotten it here at Lanier High School. It's important to see what you want to be. It's not about being in the military. It's about seeing someone come from the same place you did that went to the same high school that you did. There are no limitations on where you can go."

Biography of Commander Zeita Merchant

Cmdr. Zeita Merchant was born in Chicago and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Lanier High School and went on to graduate from Tougaloo College with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. While at Tougaloo College, she joined the United States Coast Guard through the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative in June of 1997.

Merchant holds a Master of Science in Biology from Tougaloo College, a Master of Science in Quality Systems Management from the National Graduate School, a Master of Arts in Public Administration from George Washington University, and a Doctorate degree in Business Administration from George Washington University. In addition, she served as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar XXI Fellow. She is currently assigned to Harvard University where she serves as a National Security Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Merchant has served over 22 years in the Coast Guard at various units across the nation. She was recently selected for promotion to Captain (O-6), only the third African American female to do so in the history of the Coast Guard. Merchant is one of only 30 designated Type 1 Incident Commanders currently active within the Coast Guard. Naturally, she is a highly demanded expert sought to cultivate the next generation of responders.

Notable Assignments

  • Military Congressional Fellow: As a Coast Guard Governmental Affairs Officer, she previously served as a Military Congressional Fellow for the U.S. House of Representatives on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
  • Hurricanes Harvey and Irma: Deployed as an incident commander to Port Arthur, Texas, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Cmdr. Merchant's leadership empowered rapid triage and unity of effort that helped reconstitute one of the largest petrochemical port complexes in the world. Shortly thereafter, she was requested in Puerto Rico to exercise her unique talents toward guiding over 750 Coast Guard responders to facilitate order and orchestrate relief in the devastating wake of Hurricane Maria.
  • Marine Safety Unit Chicago: Served as the Commanding Officer of Marine Safety Unit Chicago from 2016-2019. She was the first woman to command MSU Chicago and the first African American female to command a marine safety unit in the Coast Guard.

More Coverage: