Commandant (DCMS-DPR-5)
U.S. Coast Guard
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Stop 7907
Washington, D.C. 20593-7907

Captain John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award

About the Award

Captain Witherspoon was a sailor, a mentor and a pioneer. He was also a leader, an honorable man, someone who commanded respect and a "do-as-I-do" kind of leader. After a stint in the Army, Witherspoon joined the Coast Guard in 1963. He advanced to the rate of quartermaster first class and then was selected for Officer Candidate School. Witherspoon graduated with honors and was commissioned as an Ensign in June 1971.

Upon taking command of CGC Mallow in 1982, Witherspoon became the second African-American officer to command a Coast Guard cutter. He was the first African-American to command a Coast Guard shore unit when he assumed command of the Houston/Galveston Vessel Traffic Service. Witherspoon later commanded CGCs Valiant and Dependable. Witherspoon was a kind, outgoing, generous, caring, down-to-earth, soft-spoken man who gently touched the lives of many, yet left a strong, lasting impression on everyone who knew him. In his memory, the Commandant established the Capt. John G. Witherspoon Inspirational Leadership Award.

Award Criteria

This award annually recognizes the Coast Guard officer, active duty and reserve, who best exemplifies the Coast Guard’s Core Values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.

  1. Exemplified the Coast Guard core values of honor (integrity), respect (esteem of junior and seniors), and devotion to duty (ethical behavior).
  2. Fostered a culture of diversity through inclusion and commitment
  3. Mentored both junior and senior personnel toward their highest potential
  4. Led and motivated by example to ensure mission execution excellence

Nomination Deadline

The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, February 14, 2024. 

Nomination Guidelines

• Consideration for the Witherspoon Award extends to all regular and reserve officers serving on active duty during the calendar year. Reserve officers serving on active duty over 30 days can be considered alongside regular active duty candidates.

• Nominations shall be submitted by any Coast Guard member or civilian employee in the form of a memorandum, NOT to exceed two pages. Each nomination must be typed using Times New Roman (12 point) font with one inch margins. Any package that exceeds two pages will not be considered.

• The memorandum nominating the member shall be signed by the member's officer-in-charge or commanding officer. A "signature endorsement", per The Coast Guard Correspondence Manual (COMDTINST M5216.4C), is required by the first O6 in the nominated member's chain of command. If the nominated member's commanding officer is an O6 then a signature endorsement is NOT required. If a commanding officer is nominated, the next level command shall endorse the nomination. New Page Endorsements will not be accepted. 

• The nomination should identify specific examples and supporting information on how the nominee exemplifies each of the award criteria by using impact statements explaining how the member inspired others and influenced favorable outcomes. Nominations should directly address individual leadership methodologies and climate rather than simply reporting unit accomplishments.

• Nominations can be emailed to Please save PDF under the naming convention: Last Name, First Initial. Year_Name of Award_Active Duty or Reserve (for example: Coastie, J. 2022_Witherspoon_Active Duty)


Winner Selection

A selection panel will review the nominations and make recommendations to the Commandant for approval. All primary and alternate winner selections will be vetted by CGIS prior to Commandant approval. 

Award Presentation

The award should be presented at an appropriate ceremony at the district command closest to the winner.

Additional Information

A mentoring spot in the TRACECEN Cape May Recruit Company Mentor Program is reserved for the Witherspoon award winner.