As of last fall, the top four leaders in the Maryland National Guard are all women— three of them African-American— and all mothers.
Led by Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh, the first African-American and first woman to hold the position of adjutant general for the Maryland National Guard since 2015, says the leaders went up the ranks through exemplary capability. According to Singh, the all-female leadership was entirely unintentional— she simply wanted the most qualified candidates available.
“What I didn’t want is to have a female leadership team that’s not competent,” Singh said, reported the Washington Post. She says that these female leaders have been tested in ways many of their male counterparts haven’t. She also credits perfect timing which aligned just right to allow for the all-female command team, such as the paths of each of the women’s careers, along with the “moves and retirements.”
When Singh proposed the likelihood of an all-female leadership team to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), she stressed to him that was no gender favoritism but that these were the right individuals for the positions. Hogan agreed and signed off on her recommendations.
Last June, Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead began serving as assistant adjutant general, and two months after, Brig. Gen. April Vogel took over as assistant adjutant general for Air. Then, in December, Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson became senior enlisted adviser for Maryland’s National Guard.
This historical feat shows how far the country has come since the 1950s when women were first allowed to join the National Guard only as medical officers. It was not until the 1990s when a woman would become a state adjutant general, the top commander of a state’s military forces. Nationally, women continue to rise up in military ranks, taking on roles that were previously only filled by men.
However, even in Maryland, the military still has a long way to go. The field is overpoweringly male-dominated. Before Gen. Birckhead was promoted to brigadier general, she was the only woman out of 25 colonels in the Maryland Army National Guard. Each of the women credited other female National Guard leaders for noticing their skills and helping to elevate them. Sgt.
Wilson remembers how a high ranking female sergeant inspired her to rise up the ranks as well early in her career.
When she was promoted to private second class, she watched as the female superior was promoted to staff sergeant. At the promotion ceremony, the staff sergeant told her she wanted to someday reach her rank. As Wilson went up to receive her private second-class pin, she told the first sergeant: “I want to get to where she gets.” Both women have since far exceeded their goals. When Wilson ended up being promoted to sergeant major, the other female leader pinned her at her ceremony.
The four top female leaders are also all mothers. Brig. Gen. Vogel and other female leaders say they can empathize with soldiers seeking advice for balancing motherhood with their military occupations. Vogel said, “I can’t tell you the number of young women who have asked to speak with me and said… ‘How did you handle this?’ What do you do when you’re being questioned because you have to go home to take care of your kids?”, she discussed with the Washington Post.
For Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh, she recalls not wanting anyone at work to know she was pregnant. She told the Washington Post, “The company commander at that time … he was the only one that knew,” Singh continued, “If it wasn’t for me having to wear a dress uniform, which I couldn’t fit, they probably wouldn’t have known until I was like seven or eight months because I just kept buying a bigger jacket. And just to tell you how it was during those days, they did not want me in the motor pool because I was pregnant. I went, ‘Really?’ … ‘Well, you’re pregnant.’ ‘Okay, well, I don’t have leprosy.’”,
Since the four women have taken their leadership positions, there has also been a noticeable shift in the leadership style of the Maryland military. Wilson says that as women, they are more detail-oriented and nurturing to the people. However, usually the gender makeup of the command staff is not a constant thought. Wilson says, “When you see a male leadership team, you don’t think anything of it. That’s the point we need to get to, where it becomes the norm. And we’re not quite there yet.”, reported the Washington Post.