Governor Wes Moore has selected a Black woman to be the leader he relies on during a crisis, the tenacious Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead. (Right) General Jonnie E. Wilson, U.S. Army Retired, was in attendance for the memorable day with the Honorable William J. Walker. (Photos courtesy Maryland National Guard Public Affairs)

By Colonel (Ret.) Edna W. Cummings, U.S. Army,
Special to the AFRO

Governor Wes Moore’s selection of Major General Janeen Birckhead as his top military advisor makes her the only Black woman in the United States currently in the role of a National Guard Adjutant General. 

Birckhead’s new job has two missions that consist of both federal and state roles. 

For state missions, Moore, through Maryland’s Adjutant General, commands the force. When needed, Moore can call the National Guard for duty during local or statewide emergencies, such as storms, fires, earthquakes or civil disturbances. For national missions, and when requested by the President, the National Guard provides trained units to defend the United States and the country’s interests around the world.

Birckhead spoke on how being a member of the National Guard has impacted her life in a press release sent to the AFRO. 

“The Maryland Army National Guard challenged me mentally, physically, and spiritually in a way that no other pursuit did,” said Birckhead. “It is a dedication to push beyond what you think is possible and go beyond the boundaries of oneself.”

Aside from her military duty, Birckhead also works a full-time job as a civilian at the Department of the Interior. Still, service remains a passion.

“Each time I put on my uniform, I remember the sacrifices of those that came before me, and I know there will be others who will climb higher because of my work,” said Birckhead in the media release. “I won’t know their names, and they may not know mine, but together we will change the world.” 

In his remarks, Moore referred to his selection as a “powerful day for the state.” 

Whether by chance or choice, Moore’s actions highlight the 75th anniversaries of President Harry S. Truman’s landmark and controversial decisions. On June 12,1948 the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed to allow women to serve as regular members of the Armed Forces.  A month later, on July 26, 1948 Truman signed Executive Order 9981 desegregated the Armed Forces. 

More than seven decades later, Truman’s actions and the work of countless Black soldiers have cleared a path for Birkhead. 

Governor Moore demands the best at his side to advise him during a time of crisis– and the best for Moore and Maryland’s roughly six million residents is Birckhead. 

As Maryland’s new Adjutant General, Birckhead is responsible for leading over 6,300 soldiers, airmen and employees– both federal and state. Along with leading the force, she must sustain their ability to prevail against all threats—regardless of when or where they happen. Moore emphasized to the audience that Birckhead is now the state’s military leader because “she deserved it.” 

On June 3, at two separate venues, Moore officiated ceremonies for Birckhead. 

Her husband Craig Morton, children Lindsay and Craig, sister Nicolle and her niece McKenna stood firm by her side with obvious love and adoration. 

Guests included Medal of Honor recipient Colonel (Ret.) Paris Davis, the former House of Representatives Sergeant At Arms, the Honorable William J. Walker, Army General (Ret.), Maryland’s Secretary for Veterans Affairs Johnnie  E. Wilson, Anthony Woods and other past and present military leaders, politicians and friends. 

These events formalized Birckhead’s new role as Maryland’s Adjutant General. She succeeds outgoing commander Maj. Gen. Timothy Gowen, who assumed command in 2019 from Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, appointed by Governor Hogan. Singh was the first female and Black woman to hold the position since the National Guard’s organization in 1636. 

Birckhead received her second star at 9 a.m. in a promotion to major general. She desired to have a historically Black college or university (HBCU) as the venue for this historic ceremony and selected the Calvin and Tina Tyler Ballroom located at Morgan State University’s Student Center. 

The synergy at the HBCU was an obvious choice for transition into her new rank and role. 

Birckhead is a summa cum laude HBCU graduate from Hampton University, and the Maryland National Guard trains Morgan State ROTC Cadets. Both HBCUs have produced military and civilian graduates who have risen to the highest professional levels in their respective fields. Hampton University’s current President is also an alum, Lieutenant General (Retired) Darrell K. Williams.  

In a video tribute to her mother, the late Ms. Fannie W. Birckhead was recognized as a well-respected activist in her Snow Hill Maryland community, providing a moment of reflection and immense gratitude. In an interview with HBCU Times Magazine, Birckhead credits her mother for pushing her to apply for ROTC at Hampton University, the first step that brought her into the Army. Birckhead’s mentor and the highest ranking Black woman in the Army, Lieutenant General Donna Martin, administered the oath of office, a renewal of Birckhead’s commitment to service. Birckhead also thanked another mentor, Brigadier General (Ret.) Julia Cleckley, the first Black woman to rise to the ranks of general in the National Guard. 

Growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Birckhead’s impressive military career included several command assignments and deployments. While serving in the National Guard, she was a senior advisor for the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Trust Fund Administration. 

The second ceremony for Birckhead was held at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore, where she assumed command and solidified her role as the Governor’s top military advisor. 

Moore referred to Birckhead as a “soldier’s soldier” who led the state’s COVID-19 response. Her work on the Maryland Equity Task Force was the subject of an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. After the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol in 2021, she led 14,000 troops to coordinate with the Capitol Police, Secret Service and members of the FBI members to secure the Capitol Building and surrounding grounds. 

Moore, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, reverted to a military posture when he walked by the troops during the change of command ceremony. His military training and bearing were evident as he squared his soldiers and returned salutes.  

In her remarks, Birckhead vowed “not to let the Governor down.” 

It was a powerful day for the state with Birckhead’s June 3 promotion and assumption of command, but the moment also represented a powerful and historic day for the nation. The AFRO would like to send a special salute to Major General Janeen Birckhead, Maryland’s 31st Adjutant General. Without a doubt, the state of Maryland has a new commander-in-chief and a top military advisor who are both more than ready and capable to serve.