When making use of to high schools, Dean Janine Burkhead and her mom exhausted each potential choice to cowl her tuition. For Birkhead, a profession within the navy was by no means one thing she may have considered.
Little did she know that her utility for an ROTC scholarship to Hampton College in Virginia would put her on the trail to turning into the chief she is at the moment.
“She challenged me to use, and I received the interview. After which, after I received the interview, I went via that course of and received the scholarship. How are you going to flip it down? And in order that was the journey. And so the journey started,” Birkhead informed NPR.
It is a journey that has taken Birkhead from her life rising up on Maryland’s Japanese Shore to her position at the moment as commanding common — the state’s highest navy place.
Together with her appointment in April by Gov. Wes Moore, Birkhead grew to become the one Black lady within the nation to steer the state’s Military, accountable for the fight readiness of 4,600 troopers.
“The Commander-in-Chief is the commander of the Military in Maryland, and I’m very assured in Jeanine’s capability to just do that – lead. Her file demonstrates her readiness to serve within the highest navy place in Maryland,” Moore mentioned. He said When her candidacy was introduced.
From ROTC to 30 years of service
When Birkhead started her navy profession at Hampton, the college’s ROTC program — referred to as the Buccaneer Battalion — helped instill arduous work, dedication and self-discipline. For the Pirate Battalion commanders, graduating the very best future officers within the armed forces was a degree of satisfaction.
Birkhead says this mindset has made her the chief she is at the moment — and has helped her navigate the various management roles she has been tasked with throughout her service.
Earlier than turning into adjutant common, Birkhead labored on the workers of Moore’s Republican predecessor, former Gov. Larry Hogan.
In early 2021, Birkhead was appointed by Hogan as process power commander of greater than 14,000 troopers guarding the US Capitol after the January 6 assault. She additionally commanded the Maryland Nationwide Guard Security mission for President Biden’s inauguration.
Later that yr, she was requested to steer what grew to become the nation’s first operational vaccine fairness process power. On this place, she distributed vaccines, visited communities and recognized who wanted vaccines most primarily based on demographics.
Push in direction of rising illustration within the military
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Birkhead is not the primary Black lady to steer the state’s Military, however as she approaches her sixth month in workplace, she’s drawn inspiration from her position mannequin — who’s now retired. Major General Linda Singh – who was the primary lady and African American to steer the Maryland Nationwide Guard.
She realizes how uncommon it’s for somebody like her to rise via the ranks. In 2021, fewer than one in 5 lively responsibility officers within the navy are ladies. Solely 9% of officers within the Marine Corps had been ladies.
Though she is happy with her rise, after three a long time of service, she nonetheless wonders why the Military retains getting “firsts.”
“I have been right here 30 years. And we nonetheless have the primary, you realize, the primary like this, and the primary lady this. And that is very telling. The priorities are nice. However we wish a second, a 3rd, a fourth. After which we do not have to say first,” Birkhead mentioned. . However that is simply the tradition of the group. That is what we need to obtain.”
She admits it will not at all times be straightforward. Birkhead says that over the course of her profession, she typically felt ignored as a Black lady within the male-dominated navy tradition.
“If I am in uniform, it is actually attention-grabbing once I stroll right into a room. They’re going to deal with my assistant, or they’re going to deal with the one that’s with me and it isn’t a black feminine; clearly it needs to be the chief. And that psychological leap comes out many occasions,” Burkhead mentioned. “.
Thankfully, her crew is expert at correcting those that make these errors. They typically must level to her and inform people who she is the chief they’re in search of.
Future challenges and targets
Birkhead is not any stranger to overcoming challenges — and he or she is aware of she’ll face extra as she continues to navigate her new position.
One of many hardest challenges it is going to seemingly face helps increase recruiting, a quandary not just for its power in Maryland, however for the Military extra broadly.
“I’ve to exit in entrance of grassroots organizations, the neighborhood, and say that is how the Nationwide Guard is correct to your baby or your beloved, and provides them some assurance that your beloved might be taken care of. Be protected in our group, as a result of there’s one thing right here for everybody,” Birkhead mentioned.
It additionally focuses on the challenges related to working a profitable group. Its objective is for all of its Troopers to have wholesome working situations and to make sure that the appropriate folks do the appropriate jobs.
“I’ll proceed to advertise behavioral well being and make sure that we’ve got Troopers, Airmen and civilian staff who really feel they’re protected and that they’ve a spot to go when their points have to be addressed,” Birkhead mentioned.