General Credits Trail Blazers at APG Women’s History Month Celebration
CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | March 16th, 2017
Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, speaks to Edgewood Chemical Biological Center employees during a leadership development luncheon.
“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, speaking at 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.”
The event was held at the Mallette Training Facility on March 15 and it is also part of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s 100th anniversary celebration. It was attended by employees and service members from ECBC and other Aberdeen Proving Ground commands. It also included an actress performing as U.S. Navy computer science pioneer Adm. Grace Murray Hopper to share her life story.
Gervais also praised the U.S. Army as a progressive force for advancing opportunities for women. She said this includes hiring women to fly newly manufactured airplanes to Army installations within the continental United States during World War II, opening all non-combat and non-hazardous military occupational specialties to women in 1972, and graduating the first co-educational class from the U.S. Military Academy in 1976. Women continue to make historic firsts in the Army, such as the first two women to graduate from Army’s Ranger School in 2015 and the first woman to be assigned to an Army special operations unit in December.
Reflecting on her life path, she said that she was the seventh of nine children and 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.”
Her next stop was an Edgewood Chemical Biological Center leadership luncheon held in the ECBC 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, she has a special place in her heart for ECBC because she deeply appreciates ECBC’s 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 ECBC’s Advanced CBRNE Training Facility where a team of trainers instructs members of the armed forces, special customers, and interagency partners how to respond to chemical and biological threats encountered in the field. Gervais said that she admired the realism of the threat scenarios the team is able to create. “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 at it again, “I thought to myself, ‘If these old buildings could talk, the things they would have to say.’” As of 2017, that would be a 100 years of stories, many of them about women’s advancement.