HomeLearning CenterShe’s Currently the Only Black Woman Leading a State Military. Here’s How It Happened

She’s Currently the Only Black Woman Leading a State Military. Here’s How It Happened

Originally published by Ajani Daniel and Jonathan Franklin for NPR

When applying to colleges, Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead and her mother exhausted every option possible to cover her tuition. For Birckhead, a career in the military was never something that crossed her mind.

Little did she know her application for an ROTC scholarship at Hampton University in Virginia would set her on the path to becoming the leader she is today.

“She challenged me to apply, and I got the interview. And then, after I got the interview, I went through the process, and I was awarded the scholarship. How can you turn it down? So that was the journey. That’s how the journey began,” Birckhead told NPR.

It’s a journey that has taken Birckhead from her life growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to her role today as adjutant general — the top military position in the state.

And with her appointment in April by Gov. Wes Moore, Birckhead became the only Black woman in the country to lead a state military, responsible for the combat readiness of 4,600 soldiers and airmen.

“The Adjutant General is the leader of Maryland’s Military, and I am very confident in Janeen’s ability to do just that — lead. Her record proves her readiness to serve at the highest-ranking military position in the state of Maryland,” Moore said when he announced her nomination.

From ROTC to 30 years in the service

When Birckhead started her military career at Hampton University, the university’s ROTC program —known as the Pirate Battalion — helped instill hard work, dedication and discipline. For leaders in the Pirate Battalion, graduating the best future officers into the armed forces was a point of pride.

Birckhead says this mindset shaped her into the leader she is today — and helped her navigate the many command roles she’s been tasked with carrying out during her service.

Before becoming Adjutant General, Birckhead served on the staff of Moore’s Republican predecessor, former Gov. Larry Hogan.

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