Women are top leaders in Maryland National Guard

Maryland National Guard leadership

From left, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. April Vogel, Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson, Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh and Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead pose for a photo Dec. 12, 2018 in Annapolis after being recognized by Gov. Larry Hogan for being the first all-female command staff in National Guard history. (Submitted photos)

At the age of 16, Linda L. Singh was homeless after having a fight with her mother. She was going to school and sleeping either on friends’ homes’ porches or in the back office of the pretzel stand she worked at in the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick.

“While not the best, I made it work,” she said.

On June 3, 1981, she was on a break from her job when she walked by a U.S. Army National Guard recruiting display at the mall. She didn’t stop at first, but on her way back to work, the recruiter convinced her enough to listen and she signed up at age 17.

“What I did not realize is that day, that conversation changed my life,” Singh said.

That serendipitous decision has turned into a more than 35-year career for Singh, who now holds the rank of major general and was appointed the 29th Adjutant General of Maryland in 2015, overseeing the daily operations for the state’s military department. She is the first woman and African American to hold the position.

Singh recalls one of her civilian bosses asking her one day who she looked up to and why. She only named men in her response and he asked her why.

“I felt awful because I had no good reason other than I did not really see women leaders that stood out to me,” she said. “I truly never thought about it until I was questioned that day. I was then asked to find women leaders that I could use as role models.”

She used the revelation and now makes a point to find, look and observe female leaders that can serve as role models for everyone. In the past decade, she has been pleased to see more women leaders in the military.

“We all need role models regardless of gender or race, but when you don’t see anyone that looks like you, you can’t help to think that you will never make it,” Singh said. “We must realize that regardless of whether we like it or not, many want to see someone that looks like them, they want to know that someone else made it. They want to know that maybe, just maybe, they too can make it.”

Singh now finds herself in a unique position as Maryland is the first state to have its entire National Guard leadership comprised of women.

Brig. Gen. April D. Vogel joined the Colorado Air National Guard because her dad and three of her four siblings had all served in the Armed Forces.

“I wanted to continue that tradition, but I also wanted to go to college,” she said.

Vogel’s initial plan was to stay six years — the length of her first enlistment — and then leave. “Little did I know that I would enjoy being a part of the military so much,” she said. “I began to learn about our organization and all of the amazing things we were doing and I met the most interesting, supportive and dedicated individuals. They took me in and really made me feel like I was an important part of a larger effort.”
That was 28 years ago and today, Vogel is an Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Maryland National Guard, Baltimore.

“When I joined the Air Force, there were very few females in leadership positions and even fewer who were visibly dealing with the balance between motherhood and career,” she said. “While I recognize that my male counterparts have similar challenges, I think that seeing females in a leadership role makes it encouraging for young ladies. Personally, I have found that many women come to me with questions about how to manage family challenges and I think, in many cases, it’s easier for them to confide in someone they know has been through it.”

At a young age, Janeen L. Birckhead’s mother challenged her to compete for a four-year scholarship that would ultimately make her an officer in the U.S. Army.

“Once I was selected for the scholarship, it was hard to turn down such a great opportunity and all I wanted was something greater than myself and to serve my state and nation,” she said.

Today, more than 25 years later, Birckhead has reached the rank of brigadier general and is an Assistant Adjutant General for Army, Maryland National Guard, Baltimore. “I am so grateful for the opportunities afforded to me and now I want to see that many others are afforded similar opportunities in their lives,” she said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson was first drawn to the military because two of her uncles served and one of her high school teachers was an Army reservist.

A member for 28 years, she serves as the Senior Enlisted Leader of the Maryland National Guard. She stayed in the military because of the ability to help others do better.

“I take a huge amount of pride and joy in seeing many of the soldiers who have served with me grow and excel in their character and careers whether military or civilian and know that I helped them to achieve their goal,” she said.

As a female leader, Wilson advises women considering a military career to go for their dream and not let anyone talk them out of it.

“Stay focused, exercise and maintain a balanced diet,” she said. “Look for a person to mentor you and remember they may not look like you and they may not even be female but listen to sound advice and work toward your goal.”

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.