By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press
WASHINGTON -- Velma L. Richardson wrote "Army
officer" in her eighth-grade dream book and she
remembers some of her classmates laughed at her.
Years later, Richardson did become an Army
officer and soon will pin on the star of a
brigadier general. And not just any general, but
one of the first two women selected for promotion
to general in Army Signal Corps history.
America could this happen," Col. Velma L.
Richardson said about her selection as one
of the first two women selected for
promotion to general in the Army Signal
Corps. She is the first woman deputy
commander of Fort Gordon, Ga., the home of
Army Signal Corps.
ichardson is also the
first woman deputy commander of the Army Signal
Center and Fort Gordon, Ga. Her responsibilities
include overseeing communications-system training
of nearly 20,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen
and foreign students each year. That mission
involves a post work force of 11,200 service
members and 4,800 civilian employees and an annual
operating budget topping $100 million.
"Only in America could this happen," Richardson
said of her achievements. "This really is the land
of opportunity, and the Army has clearly been in
the forefront of providing equal opportunity,
whether it's based on race, gender or ethnicity."
She said she's excited about her selection for
general. And humbled, too. "As I look back, I never
dreamed of being here, sitting at this desk, doing
what I'm doing. But I never felt it was closed to
me," she said.
hen Richardson was
writing in her class dream book, she'd already
thought about becoming a minister like her
grandmother. But, she said, she didn't feel she had
a "calling" to preach. She also decided against
being a doctor like her uncle. Instead, she decided
to follow aunt Vashti Jeffries' footsteps into the
Army. Jeffries joined the Women's Army Corps the
year Richardson, 47, was born and retired 28 years
later as a colonel.
"Her lifestyle, the way she talked about the
Army, how she enjoyed her work and her ability to
travel around the world really appealed to me,"
said Richardson, who was orphaned at age 10 and
raised by her grandmother in Bennettsville, S.C.
"My grandmother, Vashti O. Jeffries, raised my
brother Joseph and me," she said. "Most of my
values, upbringing, beliefs and so forth come from
Richardson said she grew up believing there was
nothing "unattainable for me." She also credits the
"wonderful support and great mentorship" of her
Richardson characterizes herself as "just a
country girl." "I am what I am," she said, "a
fairly plain, common-sense-oriented person who
believes in people and in trying to set the tone
for those who look at me as a role model."
Richardson said tremendous changes have occurred
for women in the military since she joined in
August 1973. "I came in with expectations based on
my aunt's experiences," she said. "I found myself
thrust into a very different Army from the one she
had served in."
ichardson thought she
had joined an Army that separated women
professionally from the men by assigning them to
the Women's Army Corps, no matter where they were
stationed or what their jobs. She quickly found
herself in the role of a pioneer -- after an
orientation course at Fort McClellan, Ala., she was
in one of the early groups of women to join men in
an integrated air defense officers basic course.
The Women's Army Corps was disbanded in 1978.
"I've seen a greater acceptance of women over
the years," she said. That, and a thousand
different Army uniforms for women, she quipped. But
whatever the uniform, she said, seeing a woman in
one isn't a novelty anymore.
"It's now a way of life, certainly a way of life
in the Signal Corps," Richardson said. "I've seen
many jobs opened to women. All of the changes that
have occurred -- the acceptance, tolerance and
opportunities have been good for our Army."
In her travels over the years and today, she
said, she meets young women who are considering
joining the military and those who are on active
duty and debating whether to make the military a
career. Her advice is simple: "If they have any
inkling about serving, they ought to try it out.
The military is a great place to be these days."