Nadja Y. West, who serves as deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army Medical Command, has become the Army’s first African American active duty woman officer to be promoted to two-star general.

West was honored at a promotion ceremony held April 19 at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, establishing her place in military history. In front of about 200 guests, including several military dignitaries and her family, Maj. Gen. West was pinned on the left side of her shoulder board by Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander, U.S. Central Command, and on her right by her husband, Col. Donald West, commander, Northern Regional Medical Command, as military tradition dictates.

“Part of the history that marks the walls of this memorial was written by people like Nadja,” Austin told the audience. “I knew she would reach this rank and this promotion validates her potential to serve.”

The promotion was the latest milestone in a storied journey that Maj. Gen. West started as a child in Germany five decades ago. She came into the world a mischlingskinder or “brown baby”—one of many children borne of liaisons between African American servicemen and German women. Orphaned as a baby, she was adopted at nine months by Oscar and Mabel Grammer. Oscar Grammer worked as a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army. Mabel Grammer was a civil rights activist and journalist who, at one point, wrote for the Afro American Newspapers. Together the couple adopted 12 children; West was the youngest.

The Wests gained notoriety for their efforts in placing more than 500 orphans in adoptive homes. For this, they received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal and Benemetenti Medal, awards that honor humanitarian efforts, from Pope Paul XI. 

They also received the satisfaction of helping children, like West, to succeed.

“Nadja had remarkable parents,” Austin said during the ceremony.

West chose to follow in her father’s career footsteps. She attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering. She earned a doctor of medicine degree from George Washington University and later a master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from the National Defense University. West also holds fellowships with the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Family Practice.

Her career includes stints in Saudi Arabia, Korea, Germany and Kosovo. She commanded both MacDonald in Fort Eustis, Va., and Womack Army Hospital in Fort Bragg, N.C. and was the first Army officer to join the leadership team at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

Attendees at the ceremony included the Wests’ daughter Sydney and son Logan, some of her siblings, members of her West Point graduating class and Tatiana Gfoeller, ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Military dignitaries included Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Kip Ward; Col. (Ret.) Porcher Taylor, a member of the illustrious Tuskegee Airman; and Lt. Col. (Ret.) John Mann, member, 555 Parachute Infantry Association.

During her comments, West paid homage to her parents, who are now deceased. She thanked her husband and children for being supportive despite her demanding schedule and sometimes-extensive travel. She acknowledged her sisters and brothers, several of whom also joined the military. She also thanked her classmates at West Point and the women in service who paved the way for today’s women military leaders.

“Even though this is a great event for me and my family, I’m appreciative of those who set the path for me to follow,” she said.


Frank J. Phillips

Special to the AFRO