By Debbie Gregory.
Army Surgeon General Nadja West has recently been featured in a new web series by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.
West and the other “Badass Women of Washington” have broken glass ceilings across our nation’s capital. West has distinguished herself by collecting an impressive array of “firsts.”
In 2013, West was the first black female major general of the Army’s active component, and was Army Medicine’s first African-American female two-star general. In 2015, she became the first black surgeon general. And in 2016, West became the first African-American female lieutenant general and the highest-ranking woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
At the age of two, West was adopted by a military family, her father having served as a logistics warrant officer. He and his journalist-activist wife had already adopted 11 children, with West becoming the youngest of their 12.
According to West, an early, positive influence on her life was seeing the black, female character Lt. Nyota Uhura on the bridge of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. Uhura was one of the first characters of African descent to be featured in a non-menial role on an American television series.
West has always felt gratitude towards her biological mother for making a decision that although tough, was in her child’s best interest.
“My mom decided that she couldn’t take care of me or didn’t want to take care of me,” West said. “I’m just very thankful that she decided to give me a chance at life because you could have had other options.”
Besides West, nine of her siblings went on to serve in the U.S. Army. In 1978, West applied to the U.S. Military Academy at the encouragement of one of her brothers; she was one of the 126 women accepted into the Academy’s third class that allowed women.
Breaking barriers at the Academy certainly came with its own set of challenges. When she arrived, there was just one all-male class left, but she said for some, the goal was to “run all the women out before they graduated.” And although she had some reservations about her decision to attend, being pushed to drop out only served to strengthen her resolve to succeed.
After West graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, she attended medical school at George Washington University.
Her Army medical service included deployments in the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
West is a role model, especially to her own daughter and her son, who is now following in his mother’s footsteps as a plebe at West Point.
To see the feature on West and the other “Badass Women of Washington” visit http://www.cnn.com/specials/politics/badass-women-of-washington .