Army's First Black, Female Two-Star General Speaks on Diversifying Armed Forces

Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson tackles natural hairstyles and why she decided to stay in the Army.

Posted: 06/11/2014 12:06 PM EDT
Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson

As the first Black, female two-star General and the U.S. Army's highest ranking Black woman, Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson has plenty to say about how to diversify the Army. During a recent conference call in which The Root was included, Anderson spoke on why it's so important that the armed forces represent all cultures and step their game up when it comes to getting women into the conversation.

"If you're not seated at the table, you are on the menu," Anderson said. "You have to have a lot of different people involved in discussions if we want to improve our organizations."

One of the standards that Anderson became involved with is the Army Regulation 670-1, which forced stringent grooming standards and made it difficult for women with natural hair to follow. Hairstyles like dreadlocks, Afros, and braids past a certain thickness were banned. Anderson began losing her hair due to using relaxers and had to undergo steroid treatment to remedy the problem. She then made a suggestion to a senior personnel officer that the Army speak with hair specialists about the issue.

"He took that to heart, a group was convened, they met with a hair-and-scalp specialist who explained some things, and there were some changes in the works—as a consequence of all of this—to update the regulations to reflect a more inclusive approach to grooming while still making sure that soldiers presented the American people [with] a very professional appearance," Anderson said.

She also recalls the moment she decided to remain in the Army - when she passed by a group of female soldiers walking in formation who were happy to see her and proceeded to salute her instead of the two senior male officers by her side.

"They were excited to see me, and I realized then that I needed to stay because I needed to motivate more young women to follow the same course," she added. "It ... made me more determined to stay, to do a good job, to make sure that my ethics were above reproach. Because in being the first, there's always a danger that you could be the last."


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(Photo: Courtesy of U.S. Army)

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