CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — As the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of major general in the U.S. Army, Marcia M. Anderson helped inspire Letterkenny Army Depot employees Friday as they observed Black History Month.
In a keynote speech focusing on “Black Women in American Culture and History,” the 30-year career soldier spoke of her personal philosophy for success.
“It’s not your ZIP code or your family history that determines where you end up in life so much as what’s in your heart and what’s in your brain,” Anderson told Letterkenny employees.
Growing up in East St. Louis, Ill., — an area with a high rate of poverty and a low graduation rate — didn’t stop her from achieving her seemingly unattainable goals, Anderson said.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., followed by a law degree from Rutgers University.
The two-star general credited other African-Americans for paving the way for her opportunities.
In spite of adversity and limited opportunities, Anderson said African Americans have played a significant role in U.S. military history.
During the American Revolution, African-American women dressed in men’s clothing and fought beside their husbands, she said.
And during the Civil War, Harriet Tubman served with the U.S. Army as a nurse, scout, spy and soldier, she said.
Last month, Anderson said she met seven of the Tuskegee Airmen who served in World War II.
“They (Tuskegee Airmen) are and were my inspiration for where I am today, because they opened the doors,” Anderson said.
In 1948 President Truman desegregated the military.
“I tell you all these stories to lay the groundwork to understand that I am the recipient of a lot of other people who suffered and endured things — like my father,” Anderson said.
She said her father, Rudy Mahan, dreamed of being a pilot during World War II, but ended up serving in the transportation corps.
“One of the things that makes me proud to be a member of the Army is that I’ve had opportunities to succeed and excel that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else,” Anderson said. “I’ve had individuals who were willing to mentor me.”
There are a lot of employment opportunities for young people in the military, she said.
“I think people should take another look at the military, especially these days. In the Army (alone), we have over 150 different specialties that translate into civilian occupations,” Anderson said. “I hope more people will consider military service as a career. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be sent overseas necessarily.”
Anderson said she will begin working on March 19 for Thomas R. Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, to help integrate the Army Guard, the Army Reserve and active Army.
Ralph Purvis, a supply system analyst for Letterkenny, was impressed with Anderson’s speech.
“It was a great experience. It was the first time I sat through a two-star general’s speech on Black History Month. It was a good experience,” he said.
Tillisa Whorton, a human resource specialist at Letterkenny, left the meeting motivated.
“She really inspired me that it is within you. People can put limits on you, but if you have that will to persevere within yourself — you will definitely make it there,” Whorton said.