MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Army has its first black female two-star general. Wisconsin native Marcia Anderson received a promotion after three decades in the military. Erin Toner of WUWM in Milwaukee has her story.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ERIN TONER, BYLINE: It's Marcia Anderson's first day back at her civilian job as clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Madison, Wisconsin.

MAJOR GEN. MARCIA ANDERSON: This is a beautiful fall morning in Wisconsin and I walked through the building and everyone greeted me as though I had just left yesterday.

TONER: Anderson actually left a year ago, when she was assigned to lead the Army's human resources command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The year came to an historic end in September when, at 53, Anderson became the first black woman to become a major general in the Army.

Anderson's father, a Korean War vet, traveled to Fort Knox for the ceremony.

ANDERSON: I think he had to have two shirts that day because he popped the buttons off of the first one, he was so excited. He was so proud. It was more his moment, I think, in many ways, than it was mine. His and a lot of other men and women like him who didn't have the opportunity to succeed like I did.

TONER: Anderson's career began when she joined ROTC in college. Later, she earned a law degree and went on to serve with reserve units on the East Coast. She quickly moved up the military ranks.

ANDERSON: You're put in charge of people and they test you.

TONER: One of those tests came early on when Anderson was assigned to train a group of drill sergeants.

ANDERSON: I knew the commander there was not real thrilled to have me, but I just resolved to do a really good job. I think it's just a generational thing and I took those drill sergeants who were not the best of the best and I made it my business to make them the best of the best.

TONER: Even though white men far outnumber women and minorities in the highest ranks of the military, Anderson feels there are equal opportunities and a good support system for anyone who wants to become a leader.

ANDERSON: You know, I think any limitations, a lot of those limitations are self-imposed, so people in the military who just scrape by, people notice that.

TONER: But despite her leadership skills, when Anderson's promotion was announced, there were those critical of her earning the rank of two-star because she never served in combat. Anderson says, while she did volunteer during both Gulf wars, it's unfortunate that was the focus for some.

ANDERSON: Because there's a lot of officers, good officers and NCOs in our Army who haven't deployed and, quite frankly, it's an accident of our specialty.

TONER: Anderson says those who work in Army human resources provide valuable support for military families.

ANDERSON: It's usually important, especially with the way there are multiple deployments and we know the impact that has on families and we do everything we can to help take care of them.

TONER: While Major General Anderson makes Wisconsin her home, she moves on to a part time assignment in Washington, D.C. as a deputy to the chief of the Army Reserve.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee.

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