“Staying in the race”: The story and lessons learned from the first African-American woman Army Surgeon General
This weekend we lost a great American hero in John McCain, a man if integrity, honor, and courage. In a time where these traits seem in short supply, it is encouraging to look for others still in the prime of their careers both demonstrating and developing those traits in the next generation. One of these people is Lieutenant General Nadja West.
In December 2015, LTG West became the 44th Army Surgeon General, the Army’s first black woman lieutenant general and the highest ranking woman to graduate from West Point. After earning her bachelors degree in engineering at the United States Military Academy, she went on to earn her doctorate at the George Washington University School of Medicine, specializing in family medicine and dermatology.
Her experience with grit came early on. The youngest of twelve children adopted by an Army warrant officer and his journalist wife, she grew up understanding Army life and service. In an interview with the Army Times, LTG West says:
“I joined the Army because I come from a military family. I kind of grew up eating, drinking, breathing, living Army. My dad was in — he joined the Army in 1939, when the Army was segregated, and stayed in for 33 years.
Nine of my siblings were serving. I’m the youngest, so to me it was just something I could not wait to do. I knew I would be serving in some capacity in the military.”
She credits her foray into science to Star Trek. Watching Spock on the Starship Enterprise, “I wanted to be a Vulcan. And I wanted to be a scientist.” West has also commented that another Star Trek character, Uhuru, inspired her early on.
Advice to new leaders
When West went into the military, her father had a few words of advice:
Do your best, conduct yourself in a dignified manner. And really work hard, because you’ve got people watching you. People are going to look at you, and your mistake is going to reflect on a lot of people. Your success is going to reflect on more people.”