The Army has appointed its first black female two-star general.
Wisconsin native Marcia Anderson was promoted after a military career that spans more than three decades.
And she says she hopes her achievement inspires young service members to become leaders.
A Historic Promotion
Anderson’s civilian job is clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Madison, Wis.
“It’s just a beautiful fall morning in Wisconsin, and I walked in the building and everyone greeted me as though I had just left yesterday,” she says on her first day back.
Anderson actually left a year ago when she was assigned to lead the Army’s Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky. The year came to an historic end in September, when at 53, Anderson became the first black woman to become a major general in the Army. Anderson’s father, a Korean War vet, traveled to Fort Knox for the ceremony.
“I think he had to have two shirts that day because he popped the buttons off of the first one,” Anderson says. “He was so excited, he was so proud. It was more his moment, I think in many ways, than it was mine — his and a lot of other men and women like him who didn’t have the opportunity to succeed like I did.”
A Good Support System
Anderson’s career began when she joined ROTC in college and was quickly attracted to its physical and leadership activities. Later, she earned a law degree and went on to serve with Reserve units on the East Coast. She quickly moved up the military ranks.
“You’re put in charge of people and they test you,” Anderson says.
One of those tests came early on when Anderson was assigned to train a group of drill sergeants.
“I knew the commander there was not real thrilled to have me, but I just resolved to do a really good job,” she says. “I think it’s just a generational thing and I took those drill sergeants who were not the best of the best and I made it my business to make them the best of the best.”
Even though white men far outnumber women and minorities in the highest ranks of the military, Anderson feels there are equal opportunities and a good support system for anyone who wants to become a leader.
“You know, I think any limitations — a lot of those limitations are self imposed,” Anderson says. “So people who — in the military — who just scrape by, people notice that.”
Criticized For Not Serving In Combat
But despite her leadership skills, when Anderson’s promotion was announced, there were those critical of her earning the rank of two-star because she never served in combat. Anderson says while she did volunteer during both Gulf Wars, it’s unfortunate that was the focus for some.
“Because there’s a lot of officers, good officers and NCOs [non-commissioned officers] in our Army who haven’t deployed,” she says. “And quite frankly it’s an accident of our specialty.”
Anderson says those who work in Army human resources provide valuable support for military families.
“It’s hugely important, especially with the way there are multiple deployments and we know the impact that has on families,” she says. “And we do everything we can to help take care of them.”
While Anderson makes Wisconsin her home, she moves on to a part-time assignment in Washington, D.C., as a deputy to the chief of the Army Reserve.