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Army Guard Promotes 1st Black Woman to Flag Rank

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Sept. 13, 2002 – Brig. Gen. Julia Jeter Cleckley vowed to make it possible for others to follow in her footsteps after becoming the first African-American woman to be promoted from full colonel to flag officer in the Army National Guard on Sept. 3.

"Being the first in anything is not worthwhile if you don't open doors for others," said Cleckley during her promotion ceremony that was punctuated with humor and humility here at the Army National Guard's Readiness Center.

"Being first is not so important unless there is a second and a fourth and a tenth," the devout woman told the standing room crowd of some 400 well-wishers, including her two daughters and five other members of her family.

They applauded Cleckley, who was raised in Aliquippa, Pa., for the barriers she has already broken during her 26 years of military service.

Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, the Army Guard's director, promoted the pioneering career officer from New York to one-star rank during the National Guard's Year of Diversity. Cleckley will now serve as Schultz's special assistant for human resources readiness.

"We're not recognizing what Julia Cleckley has done. We're recognizing what she is going to do," said Schultz. "That's about her potential. That's about the future. That's about what the Army Guard isn't yet, but is going to be."

Cleckley is now the third one-star general among the 42,000 women serving in the Army Guard. Her accomplishments include being the first minority woman to become a branch chief at the National Guard Bureau; the first African- American woman to be promoted to colonel in the Active Guard and Reserve program; and the first woman and minority member to serve on the Army Guard director's special staff as chief of Human Resources. She has also been a professor of military science at Hampton University's ROTC program in Virginia.

Cleckley has nurtured her two daughters, Helene and Ellen, to adulthood during the two decades she has been a widow. She has helped numerous students at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington get money for college. She has been honored by the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People for excellence in mentorship and community service.

Many people praised her during the promotion ceremony and buffet luncheon that followed. "She's always been a dedicated soldier, because she believed that was God's will," said her youngest daughter, Ellen Cleckley, who lives in San Francisco. "She's also been a great mother and mentor and friend. I don't know how she's done it. She's been able to do everything so graciously.

"Work has always been work, and home has always been home. As busy as she was, we always had our weekends."

Cleckley enlisted in the Women's Army Corps after finishing high school. She then joined the New York National Guard and received her commission in the Adjutant General Corps with the 42nd Infantry Division in 1976, while she was a schoolteacher. She has served full-time with the National Guard Bureau in northern Virginia since 1987.

She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and education from Hunter College in New York City and a master's in human resource management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. She was selected for the U.S. Army War College in 1992 and studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston.

Cleckley acknowledged many people – sergeants and civilians and general officers, including recently retired Lt. Gen. Russell Davis, the former chief of the National Guard Bureau – for helping her to obtain her own silver stars.

"I am humbled by how other people have made a difference in my life," she said. "I am certainly honored to be a general officer. I realize what a select group I have become a part of," said Cleckley who pledged to "continue my work at the next level; to look at where we are and to be part of a team that will get us to where we need to be.

"We must give diversity more than just lip service, and we're doing that by establishing methods to achieve acceptance for all people, regardless of race and gender," added Cleckley who recalled the early days of her career when white males dominated the Army National Guard.

"Today, more women and minorities are advancing to key leadership positions throughout the National Guard," she said. "We've got a long way to go, but we're moving in the right direction."

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