Q&A: Meet the first woman to lead the Alabama National Guard
Major General Sheryl E. Gordon is the first woman to serve as the Adjutant General of the Alabama National Guardhaving been appointed to the position in 2017. She advises the Governor on military affairs and commands the Alabama Army and Air National Guard and its more than 12,000 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen.
Gordon, who holds degrees from Birmingham Southern College, Auburn University at Montgomery and the Army War Collegewas commissioned in 1981 by the Alabama Military Academy. She became the first female general officer in the Alabama National Guard in 2009. She previously served as deputy adjutant general and commander of 62nd Troop Command in Montgomery, and has received numerous medals and insignia.
Alabama Living: Tell us about your early years, where you went to school, and a bit about your family.
Major General Gordon: I was born and raised in Selma and graduated from Selma High School. I come from a family with deep military roots and later married into a family with deep military roots. My father and my brother were both officers in the Alabama National Guard – my father, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard and my brother, a brigadier general in the Army National Guard. So, of course, I also had to become an officer. My husband is a retired lieutenant colonel.
AL: How did your years as a high school chemistry teacher and vice principal prepare you for your career in the Guard?
Gordon: The most rewarding part of my journey has been witnessing the military, civilian, and personal successes of young soldiers and airmen. This sounds a lot like my experiences as a high school teacher and administrator. You are always happy to see that your students have become confident and productive members of society. I see my job now, just as I did in education, to provide soldiers and airmen with the proper training and opportunities to excel in their lives.
I believe it is important for everyone to have a mentor and be a mentor. I had several mentors who guided me along the way. As a current guard, retired high school teacher, and administrator, I have always considered myself a mentor to our younger generation.
AL: What does a typical day look like for you?
Gordon: I start early. This is the best time to exercise, catch up on reading, and plan the day. Many of my days are made up of meetings and calls. The best days are when I visit our guards who are training in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia or overseas to perform a mission.
AL: In a 2017 interview, you said the biggest challenge for the Alabama National Guard was preparation. Is this still the case?
Gordon: Readiness is central to the vision, mission, and priorities of the Alabama National Guard. It means people first. I said it in 2017 and it’s true today. If you don’t have the staff, your training plan can be great. But if you don’t have anyone to train, it makes no difference.
Because readiness is about our people, it’s important to care about the things that matter most to them. For example, we remain committed to taking care of our soldiers, airmen, families and civilian employees. We do this by listening to their needs and, where possible, providing them with new opportunities and benefits. When Soldiers and Airmen know family is being taken care of, we can focus on upholding Army and Air Force values, training for state and federal missions, and strengthening our alliances and partnerships. to maintain long-term success in times of war and peace.
AL: What is the most important thing about the Guard that you want the people of Alabama to know?
Gordon: I want the community to understand that the Guard is there to support them at the state and national level. The guards offer their services; yes, they are paid, but first they must be prepared to raise their right hands and take an oath to preserve and protect. When COVID-19 hit, soldiers and airmen worked together in rural communities to get vaccines to those in need. Guards helped in nursing homes; at the same time they responded to Hurricane Ida and maintained a presence against civil unrest. The most important thing the people of Alabama know about the Guard is that we are always ready and always there.
AL: How do you decompress after a week of work? What are your hobbies?
Gordon: I like to chill by the lake, at Orange Beach, almost anywhere there is sun and water. Although I can’t do it as often as I would like, quail and deer hunting are hobbies I picked up growing up in Selma. I also enjoy reading, cooking and flower gardening.
This story originally appeared in Living in Alabama Magazine.