A Wisconsin woman has become the U.S. Army’s first black, female two-star general. Marcia Anderson, of Madison, was promoted after a military career spanning more than three decades. She recently returned to her hometown, and that’s when she shared her journey with WUWM’s Erin Toner.
It’s Marcia Anderson’s first day back at her civilian job as clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Madison.
“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.”
Anderson actually left a year ago, when the U.S. Army assigned her to lead Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The year came to an historic end in September, when military leaders made the 53 year old the Army’s first black female two-star general. She recalls her father, a Korean War vet, traveling 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, 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.”
Anderson’s career in the service started almost by accident. She needed to fulfill a science requirement in college and was told a military science course would do the trick.
“And I said to myself, well it looks kind of like gym, and I’m pretty physical, how hard can this be? So I signed up for ROTC.”
Anderson says she quickly felt she belonged in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps – the other students were organized and athletic like her, and there were a lot of leadership activities. She eventually earned a law degree and served with Reserve units on the East Coast, quickly moving up the military ranks.
“You’re put in charge of people, you’re put in charge of resources right away, and they test you.”
One test 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. 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 it provides equal opportunities and a strong support system for anyone who wants to lead. She calls it a far cry from the days when her father served in the Army Air Force in the 1940s.
“He shared with me his story about wanting to be a bomber pilot or to fly, be assigned to bombers, but of course that wasn’t officially closed to him, but they just weren’t encouraging or allowing African Americans to do those kinds of things.”
There were a few critics who objected to Anderson’s promotion because she has not served in combat. She says she volunteered for deployment during both Gulf Wars, but was never summoned. She calls it unfortunate some people focus on that fact.
“Because there’s a lot of officers, good officers and NCOs in our Army who haven’t deployed. And quite frankly it’s an accident of our specialty. My background is administration and training. Well, where does most of the training occur? Most of our military training occurs here in the United States.”
Anderson says those critical of her promotion may not realize the range of services Army administration and human resources provide, including critical 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. And we do everything we can to help take care of them.”
While Major General Anderson makes Madison her home, she remains in the Army Reserve. In fact, she’ll soon report for a part-time assignment in Washington D.C. as a deputy to the chief. Anderson says she hopes her achievements inspire young officers and enlisted soldiers. She tells them she’s kicked the door open, now it’s their job to walk through it.