Army celebrates accomplishments of African-American women


Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson speaks about the contributions of African-American women in the military, at an event at the Pentagon, Feb. 25, 2014.

Story & photo by Lisa Ferdinando
Army News Service

African-American women have been trailblazers in the U.S. military and will continue to make great strides for the nation, said the deputy chief of the Army Reserve.

“African-American women have made tremendous contributions to our military since the Civil War, and I would even argue prior to that, but a lot of it is just not recorded,” said Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson.

Anderson, the Army’s first female African-American two-star, spoke at a Department of Defense Reserve Affairs Black History Month event at the Pentagon Feb. 25.

“The accomplishments of these women and many others have opened the door for those who seek, like me, meaningful careers in the Army and our sister services,” she said.

While women in the United States military faced discrimination based on gender, African-American women faced both race and gender discrimination. Anderson said that didn’t stop those who felt it was important to serve their country.

The early contributions of African-American women include serving as nurses during the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and in other support roles such as cooks, seamstresses and launderers.

At the outset of World War I, many trained African-American nurses enrolled in the American Red Cross because they hoped to enter the Army or Navy Nurse Corps, she said.

“Finally after the Armistice was signed, 18 of those African-American Red Cross nurses were actually offered Army Nurse Corps assignments,” she said.

During World War II, members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, made up of enlisted African-American women, were sent to France to help with a backlog of mail, she said.

“They did so in record time and even exceeded the metrics that had been set for them to meet. They did a wonderful job,” she said.

The U.S. Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee, Va., has a display dedicated to those women, Anderson noted.

From the women of the past to the high-ranking military leaders of today, African-American women have served the nation with distinction, she said.

The opportunities for all female service members will only increase as the military integrates women into more roles, she said.

Today’s military “fully understands and values women” and its policies are continually evolving, she said.

While there was a lot of opposition to opening more military jobs to women, full gender integration now seems “inevitable,” she said.

“Pretty soon there is going to be no limit, I think personally, to what women can and will do for our services,” she said.

Anderson said out of the 2.2 million troops who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 250,000 have been women. That is a “significant number,” she said.

The accomplishments of Army women have been tremendous, Anderson said.

“Right now, for example, in the Army Reserve, there are over 42,000 women. We have the highest percentage of women of any of the services. It stands at about 23 percent,” she said.

She said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno supports talent management and utilizing the skills and leadership of the women who serve in Army.

As the Army sees a shrinking pool of recruits, it is more important than ever to utilize the talent it does have, she said.

Gender integration can only help keep the American military the best force in the world, she said.

“I think that we will ultimately, at the end of the day, be a better military, and continue to lead the way amongst our partners around the world,” she said.