Promotion Celebration for Brigadier General Marcia Anderson
A crowning achievement

By Jonathan Gramling

    As perhaps the crowning achievement of her career in the
U.S. Army Reserves, Marcia Anderson was promoted to the
rank of brigadier (one star) general on March 15, 2008.
Anderson became the first woman from Wisconsin — and the
second African American woman nationally — to achieve this
rank.
    While Anderson’s official promotion ceremony was held out
of state, the historical ceremony was reenacted at the
Wisconsin State Capitol in the Assembly Chambers on June 28
before over a 100 family members and friends. After the
presentation of the national colors by the 3rd Battalion 334th
Regiment of the 98th Division, Brigadier General Marcia
Anderson was preceded to the head of the chambers by retired
brigadier generals Robert Cocroft and Haywood Gilliam.
    After Toya Robinson sang the National Anthem, Rev.
Gregory Armstrong of S.S. Morris Community AME Church
gave the invocation and Cocroft gave his remarks, Gilliam
talked about the qualities of leadership. “Leaders often
concentrate on tasks and goals,” Gilliam said. “But the most
important responsibility of leadership is to recognize and
nurture junior leadership. Brigadier Anderson will be an
inspiration to untold numbers just by the way she conducts
herself. She will have an impact on many more individuals
whom she will never meet than those she will be formally
introduced to. Senior leaders should not seek to solve every
problem, but rather to ensure there are leaders available to
solve those problems wherever they occur. The importance of
leadership development is the burden and joy of leaders such
as Brigadier General Anderson.”
    Haywood went on to address the special life that citizen-
soldiers live, essentially carrying out two full-time jobs. “I would
like to offer one of my fondest memories of the time when I was
in my brigade command,” Gilliam recalled. “And Marsha, I’m
sure, will identify with this. The most striking thing to me was
the difference between what I was doing on Sunday mornings
when I was usually in Massachusetts or some place close with
my unit versus what I was doing the following Monday
mornings when I was standing in my operating room at Meriter
Hospital. Amazingly, each of the events helped to clarify and
enhance the other. So Brigadier General Anderson, I hope
that you are able to derive as much excitement and
satisfaction from your command endeavors as I enjoyed with
mine.”
     Next came the reading of the Orders. “The President of the
United States has reposed special trust and confidence in the
patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities of Marcia M. Anderson,”
Jones read. “In view of these qualities and her demonstrative
potential for increased responsibility, she is therefore promoted
to the rank of brigadier general by order of the secretary of the
Army, signed Thomas C. Siemens, colonel, chief general
officer, management office.”
     As Captain Charles Jones narrated, promotion ceremony
was observed. First was the pinning of her stars on her
shoulders. Amos Anderson, her husband and Rudy Mahan, her
dad pinned the stars while CoCroft and Gilliam assisted.
Next was the presentation of her beret affixed with the one-star
patch and the general officer belt by Anderson’s mother,
Gladys Mahan. “The history of the general officer’s belt dates
back to World War II as the result of an order by the army chief
of staff that the belt will be issued to all general officers,” Jones
noted. “The thick black leather belt with an 18 carat gold
platted buckle and an imprint of the eagle was first produced
in 1944. Today the occasion and the uniform with which the
belt is worn are at the discretion of the general officer.”
   Master Sargeant Retired Bernard Flowers then presented
Anderson with her general officer’s flag. “Throughout the
history of warfare, a General Officer’s personal flag has
symbolized leadership on the battlefield,” Jones said. “The flag’
s distinctive color and arrangement of stars represents the
general’s branch of service and rank. Customs and courtesies
dictate that this personal flag is present at all military functions
and be visibly displayed in the office of the general officer.
The flag being passed today has been physically touched by
the hands of those who have touched the life of Brigadier
General Anderson and in doing so, have contributed to today’s event.”
    Then after thunderous applause as Anderson held back the tears of pride and gratitude, Anderson addressed the audience. She began by acknowledging
the path that she has traveled, a path that had been laid by Cocroft, Gilliam and others. “Yesterday, I was watching the news and noted that one of the
Tuskegee Airmen passed away this week, Lt. Colonel Chuck Driver,” Anderson said. “He is also an individual who led the way. I think most of us know that story.
Well I am just following in their footsteps. These are men and women who simply go about doing their job. They aren’t looking for fanfare. They just expect
everyone else to do the same. I also would like to take a moment to acknowledge my father, Rudolph Mahan who served his country during the Korean War.”
Anderson went on to attribute her success to a lot of hard work and being focused on the needs of the soldiers above and under her. “General Colin Powell
said two things that I try to remember to help myself keep things in perspective and to stay grounded,” Anderson said. “One thing he said was ‘A dream doesn’t
become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination and hard work.’ He also said ‘Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your
position falls, your ego goes with it.’ I try to keep that in mind all of the time.”
    Anderson recalled that she initially joined ROTC during her college career not because she had dreams of military service. Rather it was because it had
several benefits for her as a student: it was a science credit, it involved physical activity and it fit into her schedule. But over her 29 year career, Anderson has
grown into a leader.
    “During the past years, my only dream really was to be the best I could be at whatever job or assignment I was given and to learn as much as I could along
the way,” Anderson emphasized. “So if that meant being the best staff officer, then I would always anticipate what my boss needed and then do whatever was
necessary to make it happen. If that meant taking command of a unit that everyone said was so dysfunctional that it was basically on life support, I would ask
for that unit because I felt I could find a way to motivate those soldiers to exceed their own expectations because that was what I believed was necessary in a
leader. And finally, if that meant doing the hard things, whether it was disciplining someone who was not doing their job, reporting someone who was
violating a policy or a regulation or simply taking a risk, that is what I did.”
    Anderson concluded her remarks by reflecting on the attributes of courage. “The final thought I want to leave you with is something I heard one morning
on my way to work,” Anderson said. “It’s part of Story Corps, which is an ongoing oral history project that celebrates the lives of ordinary people. One morning
in particular, I heard a recording of a 90 year old grandfather who was being interviewed by his granddaughter. And she wanted to know what advice he
would give her after all of the living he had done, the people he had known and the things he had experienced. And he told her that he had enjoyed his life
and done a lot of things. But the most important advice he could give her was to live with courage. I can think of no better way to end today because I think
living with courage means always giving your best, being there for family, for your friends, for your community and your country. Living with courage means
doing the hard things and making the difficult decisions. And that has always been my promise to myself and it is my promise to you that I will continue to do
so.”
    After Robinson sang America the Beautiful and the national colors were retired, Anderson and her family received her guests in the Capitol Rotunda.
What a historical day to remember it was.