The "Someday" Soldier of the District Army Guard
By MSgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 11, 1999 Someday, Col. Barbaranette Bolden predicts, women and members of minorities who land high- profile positions won't work in the fish bowl of public scrutiny. Someday, she believes, "People will say it's just another person doing an important job."
Feb. 1 wasn't that day, but another threshold. That is when Bolden became chief of staff of the District of Columbia Army National Guard. That is when she became the first woman in the Guard's 362-year history to shoulder those responsibilities at the state level.
A full-time Army Guardsman in the nation's capital for two decades, the 46-year-old Arkansas native had been the District Guard's director of plans, operations, training and military support. She already knows how she wants to be remembered as the Army Guard's first female chief of staff.
"I want to institute a mentoring program in our organization," she told the audience in January at the Army Guard's Senior Leadership Conference in Arlington, Va. "I want to give people a chance to develop in our organization so it continues to grow after we are gone."
Those desires are part of a creed instilled in her since she was a child, she said. Her mother was her mentor and her hero. "She was a very talented woman, and she taught us to do our best and to not let other people prevent us from realizing our goals," Bolden said. "She told us that there will be stumbling blocks and that we have to pick ourselves up and keep going.
Her mother didn't finish high school, but instilled the importance of education in all her 10 children, said Bolden, the youngest. Today, three brothers are high school principals, a brother and sister became ministers, and another sister started the first licensed daycare program for minority children in the family hometown of Forrest City, Ark.
Bolden earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Arkansas State and in 1978 headed to Washington to study law at Howard University. Her advanced degrees opened many doors, she said, but she focused on the Guard "because it's a family. It has its ups and downs, but it offered upward mobility and the chance to serve my country and community."
She had joined the Arkansas Guard in 1975. She earned a commission in 1978 through the District Guard's Officer Candidate School. And she has been climbing the Guard's management ladder ever since, holding company and battalion commands, high-level staff jobs and two District Guard directorships.
Bolden is boss of the District Guard's Army side for her boss, adjutant general Maj. Gen. Warren Freeman. Among other duties, she supervises the eight other colonels responsible for training, engaging and paying the District's 1,600 Guardsmen.
"My job is making sure that the job gets done," she explained. "The chiefs of staff run the Army side of the state organizations. We reduce the number of issues that reach the general officer level so the generals can focus on funding and getting the resources that we don't have."
"I've watched her progress since she was an OCS candidate," said Freeman, who appointed Bolden to both directorships on her resume. "She excels at working through the minutia and at resolving difficult issues. She is in the best position to pull this staff together even tighter than it is now. We already have a good team. Her job is to make it better."
Someday she may get a rest, but that's off in the future. In addition to her military duties, she has a domestic side in the Washington suburb of Temple Hills, Md. She married her husband, Rodney, in 1980 and the couple has four children -- two in college and the others in high school and middle school. She's also assistant scoutmaster for the younger boys' Scout troop in nearby Oxon Hill, Md.
Her appointment as chief of staff is another step up on behalf of military women, but she is not terribly comfortable with all the attention that went with it.
"I am working in a fish bowl because there are still so few women at the levels of colonel and above," she said. "Someday, I would like to be looked at because of my performance as a soldier and not second-guessed on everything I do because I'm a woman."
Col. Barbaranette Bolden is confident that someday will come.
[Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office in Washington.]