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Retired Major General Marcia Anderson hopes historic career inspires others to pursue a life of service

Marcia Anderson is the first African American woman in the history of the army to hold the title of Major General.
Retired Major General Marcia Anderson
Posted at 12:32 PM, Nov 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-28 13:32:26-05

MADISON, Wis. — Two scrapbooks can't possibly hold all that Retired Major General Marcia Anderson has accomplished. But they do hold the highlights.

She pointed to the picture below as she flipped through the pages, and said, "That's one of my favorite pictures from my promotion. It was really an awesome day. I'm very surprised, still, that it even happened."

Major General Marcia Anderson on the day of her promotion ceremony
Major General Marcia Anderson on the day of her promotion ceremony

The biggest highlight of her 36-year career in the Army Reserves was her promotion to Major General in 2011.

Her first call was to her husband. The second call went out to her dad, back in her hometown of Beloit. He served in the Air Force in Korea.

"I call him to let him know, but cautioned him it's a nomination and it still has to be voted on so we don't want to talk about this yet. He said, 'ok.'"

Anderson with her father
Anderson with her father

A few minutes later she felt like she needed to call him back. Her stepmom answered the phone and told Anderson that her father left to go to the barbershop.

"I said 'Oh no, I know what happening right now, everyone in Beloit is going to find out,'" she recalled with a laugh.

Of course, she would get confirmed. But it wasn't just any promotion, it made her the first African-American woman in the history of the army to hold that title.

But she only found that piece of history out in the hours leading up to her ceremony.

"It meant that I really needed to rewrite my whole speech about 30 minutes before the ceremony because I needed it to be more expansive because it was going to have a wide audience," she said.

That historic moment would have never happened if she hadn't been looking for a class to fill her liberal arts science requirement at Creighton University. She ended up taking military science.

"I had no clue what I was signing up for," she said. "That's how I got my commission as a Second Lieutenant."

She said it was the best choice she made, no matter how uninformed it may have been at the time.

"I've been very fortunate. I've had a chance to visit some places and have some experiences that I know a little girl from Beloit probably wouldn't have had but for this opportunity," Anderson said.

One of her favorite experiences was a week of teaching at a military college in Ethiopia.

"They of course were very curious about our military, but they were really curious about how our military was overseen by civilians because that was not the case and is not the case in a lot of countries. The military actually runs the country. So they asked a lot of questions about that as opposed to my experiences in the military. But I was happy to explain democracy to them," she shared.

Anderson retired in 2016. As she looks back, she says she's proud of what women in the military have done since her promotion.

Maj Gen Marcia Anderson

"People who have come after me have done even better. Women I know who are in other services ended up as three stars, four. And today we have a woman who's one of the members of the Joint Chiefs who is the first woman in that role. And I just think that's terrific," she said of others' accomplishments.

But most of all, she hopes the legacy she leaves behind is one that reflects the importance of service.

"And I don’t just mean military service, I mean serving your community, volunteering," Anderson said. "That’s how we can leave the world a better place.”