Brig. Gen. Janet Hicks' original career goal more than two decades ago didn't include becoming Fort Gordon's first female commander.
In fact, she said she was more interested in getting out of Iowa and seeing the world.
The longer she stayed in the Army, though, the more opportunities for advancement arose - and now, a year after taking command, she envisions an expanded role at the home of the Army's Signal Corps.
Brig. Gen. Hicks, nominated for promotion to major general - a two-star rank - said she remembers the reaction of her parents after she told them she was joining the Army.
"I got what my mother calls a 'wild hair,"' she said. "They did not know at first. But after the mushroom cloud cleared, I became a soldier and loved every minute of it."
Brig. Gen. Hicks made her way through the ranks of the Signal Corps, first as a student at Fort Gordon, then an instructor at the post and from 1999 to 2000, its chief of staff, before making her way to Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii as the director of command, control, communications and computer systems.
When Maj. Gen. John P. Cavanaugh retired in 2002, a shuffling of positions occurred in the Signal Corps, allowing Brig. Gen. Hicks the opportunity to fill a two-star billet - post commanding general - as a one-star general.
"When I got the call to be the CG, it caught me by surprise," she said, because the Fort Gordon staff did not expect Maj. Gen. Cavanaugh to retire when he did.
Brig. Gen. Hicks is one of 14 female generals in the Army and one of three commanding a major installation.
There are more than 200 men and women serving in the Army with the rank of brigadier general or higher, according to the Department of Defense Almanac.
Brig. Gen. Hicks said that the roles of women in the Army have grown dramatically since she entered the military in 1975.
"Thirty years ago, most women had either nursing positions or administrative positions in field units," she said.
Women did go into war zones, she said, but most held administrative positions, and until 1974, women attending the Women Officer's Orientation Course at Fort McClellan, Ala., did not even wear fatigues.
In today's Army, she said, women are in a variety of positions, but not in every part of the Army.
"There are still combat arms branches, such as infantry and armor, which exclude women," Brig. Gen. Hicks said.
Women still serve throughout the Army, though, and often in harm's way, including serving in support roles in the Signal Corps, logistics and air defense artillery and in other branches of the military, she said.
"Women are very much a part of the entire battlefield and must be expected to carry a rifle, defend a position, conduct tactical road marches and vehicle convoys - as do their (male) counterparts," Brig. Gen. Hicks said.
As the number of military women grows, there will be more opportunities for them to move up into senior positions in the Army, Brig. Gen. Hicks said.
"There are glass ceilings, but partly because women haven't served in the mainstream jobs the way men have for decades," she said.
During the year that Brig. Gen. Hicks has led the post, many changes have occurred, including the deployment of several Military Intelligence and Signal brigades in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and their return home.
At the post itself, she said, improvements were made on barriers and other measures to protect soldiers, especially around classroom halls, Darling Hall and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, to make them more permanent and secure.
"We were able to improve force protection, but we also wanted it to be effective," she said.
Other parts of Fort Gordon's infrastructure also have been improved during her first year as commander, Brig. Gen. Hicks said.
Other projects have been "quality-of-life" undertakings, she said, including renovating the old Officers' Club, expanding the post exchange and adding nine holes to the golf course.
But Brig. Gen. Hicks said one of the most important quality-of-life changes was the opening of Freedom Park Elementary School, which helps to add to a "small-town, community feel" to the post, something she said she would like at Fort Gordon.
A lot of the improvements will help Fort Gordon meet additional challenges if the installation is on the receiving end of new missions during the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closures.
"Part of the BRAC process will be to see if we're going to make the post larger," Brig. Gen. Hicks said.
Even with the 2005 BRAC round on the horizon, the general said, Fort Gordon has the capacity to take on new missions as other bases are closed.
"I could see a major headquarters fitting here," she said.
Another change that she is looking forward to is a massive improvement and privatization of on-post housing during the next several years. The initiative, which has been undertaken at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Fort Carson, Colo., has private contractors building on-post housing, Brig. Gen. Hicks said.
"These will be bigger, newer and more spread out," she said.
Most of the current 873 on-post housing structures will be razed over time, replaced by more than 1,700 houses, she said.
She said that officials are thinking of having the new housing areas close to areas such as the golf course, lakes and ponds, the PX and Freedom Park Elementary.
"We try to make sure our soldiers can get a bit of a break," Brig. Gen. Hicks said. "If they wish to live close, they can.
"I think our soldiers are still going to get out into the community, even if they live on post."
Post commanders typically stay two to three years, so Brig. Gen. Hicks someday might find herself somewhere else.
Will she come back home to Augusta when she retires?
"Augusta's a likely candidate," said the general, who is married and has one child. "We've found no better place to make a home for us."
What will she do after retirement? As the head of an Army "schoolhouse" for communications training, and the holder of a master's degree in education from Georgia Southern University, Brig. Gen. Hicks would like to become a schoolteacher.
"I love that idea about how a person learns," she said. "I love seeing that light bulb go off."
HOMETOWN: Des Moines, Iowa
1975: Entered the Army
EARLY 1980s: Student at Fort Gordon
1981-85: Post instructor at Fort Gordon
FEBRUARY 1985-JUNE 1988: Served at Fort Richardson, Alaska
JANUARY 1989-APRIL 1992: Served as communications officer J-6 for United States Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida
JUNE 1997-JUNE 1999: Commanded the 516th Signal Brigade and was deputy chief of staff for information management at Fort Shafter in Hawaii
JUNE 1999-JUNE 2000: Chief of Staff at Fort Gordon
JUNE 2000-JULY 2002: Director of U.S. Pacific Command's command, control, communications and computer systems
AUG. 7, 2002: Assumed command as the first female commanding general at Fort Gordon
MAY 2003: Nominated for promotion to major general, subject to Congressional approval
Sources: Brig. Gen. Janet Hicks, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Defense Daily Network, Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office, Staff Reports
Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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