Major General Marcia Anderson is the complete opposite of what one might expect of a 30-year military veteran. The highest-ranking African-American woman in the U.S. Army is not the tough-spoken, stern person some think of when envisioning a general. There is something warm and welcoming about her that embodies a mother, aunt, mentor, or a motivational speaker.
Anderson, promoted to major general in August, grew up in a single-family home with her grandparents in St. Louis, Mo. Her father enlisted in the Army Air Corps in the 1950s and served in the Korean War, but Anderson never thought of making it a professional career until she became an undergraduate at Creighton University.
“In those days you didn’t register for classes online. You went to school and did it. I was looking for a science credit to fit my schedule. I really wanted to take astronomy but the only courses available were only offered at night when I worked. While deciding what to do I was approached by an Army Reserves recruiter,” Anderson said.
The Army recruiter told her military science credits would qualify and the class met early, at 8 a.m. Initially, Anderson agreed to join the Army Reserve Officer in Training Corps (ROTC) program only to meet her science requirement. But as part of the Army ROTC program she learned some valuable lessons.
“I was really shy. The ROTC program forced me to break out of my shyness. I learned leadership and discipline and slowly my view on the program changed,” Anderson said.
After her eight-year commitment to the U.S. Army Reserves, Anderson decided to reenlist. She furthered her education and considered going active duty but at the time it would have conflicted with her civilian duties.
Anderson said her biggest struggle in the military was second-guessing herself. She doubted herself a lot but her strongest trait was her curiosity. She was determined to ask questions about the things she did not understand. “I would ask, ‘Why do we have to do things this way?’ And people would say, ‘because that’s the way it has always been done.’”
Anderson said many other soldiers had questions but probably were too scared to ask. She did not want to completely change things but have a complete understanding of every initiative she was part of. Anderson said it is important for African-Americans and women to be involved in the decisions of the issues of the world today.
As the former deputy commander of the U.S. Army Human Resource Command, Anderson understands the issues facing former military personnel. She works to pair Fortune 500 companies with military veterans to bridge the unemployment gap.
Her first job in the Army was as a warehouse clerk. Anderson recalled the interview process as a conversation about the military and her involvement in ROTC. She got the job because of her military affiliation.
“I grew up in an urban neighborhood and honestly the majority of the population was on some form of public assistance. The high school graduation rate was low, but I did not allow my environment to subject me to that. My education was important to me,” Anderson said.
She advises young people, who are confused about how to begin their journey to fulfill their dreams; to examine the paths of those they consider successful. “I want young African-Americans to look at me and see themselves. I want them to feel like it’s possible … to be whatever they want to be … I want people to look at me and gain a different (positive) perception of what the Army and the Army Reserves has to offer (for everyone).”