CAC commander credits trailblazers with advancing opportunities for women
“Growing up, I could never imagine being pegged to a certain career field and not able to pursue my dreams just because I’m a woman,” said Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, during the 27th annual Team APG celebration of Women’s History Month.
“I owe that to the women who blazed the trail before us, persevering and enduring to make us equal,” Gervais said.
The event, held March 15 at the Mallette Training Facility, was also part of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, or ECBC, 100th anniversary celebration. It included an actress who shared the life story of U.S. Navy computer science pioneer Adm. Grace Murray Hopper. Attendees included ECBC civilian employees and service members as well as those from other Aberdeen Proving Ground commands.
Gervais praised the U.S. Army as a progressive force for advancing opportunities for women. She said this includes when women were hired to fly newly-manufactured airplanes to Army installations within the continental United States during World War II; the opening of all non-combat and non-hazardous military occupational specialties to women in 1972; and the graduation of the first co-educational class from the U.S. Military Academy in 1976. Women continue to make historic firsts in the Army, such as when the first two women graduated from the U.S. Army Ranger School in 2015 and the first woman was assigned to an Army special operations unit in December 2016.
Reflecting on her life path, Gervais said that she was the seventh of nine children. She said she enrolled in ROTC at Landers College in her home state of South Carolina because her collegiate basketball career had been cut short by a knee injury.
“When I told my father I had enrolled in the Army he was proud, but my mother cried,” she recalled. “I only found out years later that she cried because she was proud, too. She later told me she knew that I could become anything I want because I was in the Army.”
She concluded by telling the members of the audience, “We must continue to strive and to fight against discrimination and stereotyping so that future generations of women are treated fairly. And, when you have an opportunity, step forward and take it.”
Special place in her heart
Gervais also attended the ECBC leadership luncheon held in the headquarters building. She told the attendees – mid-career employees from across the center – that as a career-long chemical officer and former commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School, ECBC has a special place in her heart because she deeply appreciates its mission of protecting the force from chemical and biological threats.
“ECBC is a hidden gem of talent and capability; you are the quiet professionals who make it all work,” she added.
She also gave the group leadership advice. “The path to leadership is really about your attitude and how you approach things. Always treat others with dignity and respect. Always ask yourself, ‘What can I do for my unit?’ and opportunities will present themselves.”
Her final stop was a tour of the ECBC Advanced CBRNE Training Facility where a team of trainers teach members of the armed forces, special customers, and interagency partners how to respond to chemical and biological threats encountered in the field. Gervais said she admired the realism of the threat scenarios the team created.
“I wish I had this more advanced CBRNE training with all these training aids when I was a young officer,” she said. “This advanced training serves as excellent reinforcement for our CBRNE fundamentals, and provides a platform for increased repetitions in a safe environment which allows for continuous feedback resulting in improved learning, decision making, and proficiency.”
Gervais is no stranger to APG. She was the commander of the U.S. Army Environmental Center from 2008 to 2010, before it moved to San Antonio, Texas. She said that when she arrived at APG the night before and looked around, “I thought to myself, ‘If these old buildings could talk; the things they would have to say.’”
As of 2017, that would be 100 years of stories, many of them about women’s advancement.
For more information about ECBC, visit http://www.ecbc.army.mil/.