She's currently the only Black woman leading a state military. Here's how it happened

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Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead is Maryland’s 31st Adjutant General — the only Black woman to lead a state-level military in the U.S. Birckhead is seated in the NPR studios, where she will be interviewed by Jonathan Franklin.

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Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead is Maryland’s 31st Adjutant General — the only Black woman to lead a state-level military in the U.S. Birckhead is seated in the NPR studios, where she will be interviewed by Jonathan Franklin.

Ajani Daniel/NPR

When Maj. Gen. Janeen Burckhead applied to colleges with her mother, they explored every possible option to pay for her tuition. Birckhead never considered a military career. She had no idea that her application for a ROTC scholarship to Hampton University, Virginia, would lead her to become the leader she is now. After I had the interview, I followed the steps and was awarded the scholarship. How could you refuse it? That was the beginning of my journey. Birckhead said to NPR that this was how her journey began. Birckhead is the only Black woman to have led a state’s military in the United States. She is responsible for 4,600 soldiers and aircraft.

“The Adjutant-General is the leader of Maryland’s Military and I am confident in Janeen’s abilities to lead.” Moore, who announced Moore’s nomination for the position, said that her record “proves her readiness to be at the highest military rank in Maryland.”

From the ROTC to thirty years of service

Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead is Maryland’s 31st Adjutant General — the only Black woman to lead a state-level military in the U.S. Birckhead, pictured above, outlines plans for improving equity in the COVID-19 vaccination distribution during a press conference in Annapolis (Md.) in March 2021.

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Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead is Maryland’s 31st Adjutant General — the only Black woman to lead a state-level military in the U.S. Birckhead, above, outlines plans for improving equity in the COVID-19 vaccination distribution during a press conference in Annapolis (Md.) in March 2021.

Brian Witte/AP

When Birckhead began her military career, Hampton University’s ROTC (also known as the Pirate Battalion) program helped to instill discipline, hard work and dedication. The Pirate Battalion leaders took pride in graduating the most promising future officers to the military. Birckhead said that this mentality helped shape her into the leader and commander she is today. It also helped her to navigate the various command roles she has been assigned during her service. Birckhead worked on the staff Moore’s Republican predecessor and former governor, Larry Hogan, before becoming Adjutant-General. Larry Hogan. Birckhead, who was named by the National Guard Bureau in early 2021 as the task force leader for the over 14,000 guards guarding the U.S. Capitol following the attack on Jan. 6, was nominated to this position by the National Guard Bureau. She led the Maryland National Guard security mission at President Biden’s inauguration. Later that year, Governor Hogan asked her to lead what became the country’s first operational vaccine equity task force. Hogan asked her lead the first operational vaccine equity Task Force in the United States. She distributed vaccines and visited local communities to determine who most needed vaccinations based on their demographics.

The push to grow representation in the militaryBirckhead is not the first Black woman to lead a state’s military, but as she approaches her sixth month in office, she has drawn inspiration from her role model — the now-retired Maj. Gen. Linda Singh — who was the first woman and African American to command the Maryland National Guard.
She understands how rare it is for someone like her to rise in the ranks. In 2021, fewer than one fifth of active duty Army officers were women. In the Marine Corps, only 9% of the officers were female. “

I’ve served in the military for 30 years. We still have the first, like, “first woman” or something similar. It’s very telling. The first is great. We want to say a second, a third, and a forth. Then we won’t need to mention the first. That’s the culture of our organization. Birckhead stated that this is where they want to be. Birckhead has often felt left out as a Black female in a culture that is dominated by males. “It’s very interesting when I walk into a meeting with my uniform on. The person will either address me or my assistant, or the other person with me who is not Black. They assume that they are the leader. And that mental leap perception happens so many times,” Birckhead said.

Luckily, her team is adept at correcting those who make these mistakes. Her team is adept at correcting those who make these mistakes.


Maryland National Guard Maj. General Janeen Birckhead talks with a woman in Wheaton (Md.) in 2021, as she receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccination.

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Maryland Guard Maj. Gen. Janeen Bickhead meets with a woman in Wheaton, Md. in 2021 as she receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccination.

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One of the biggest challenges she’ll face is expanding recruitment, which will be a problem not only for her own force in Maryland but also for the military as a whole. She is also focused on the challenges of running a successful organisation. She is also focusing on the challenges associated with running a successful organization.