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'We are some powerful women,' Meet the 4 female leaders of Maryland's National Guard

Nationwide, it's rare to find a woman in the top job in a state's national guard. But in Maryland, they've gone a step further, with women in all four of the top leadership roles.

WASHINGTON — Nationwide, it's rare to find a woman in the top job in a state's national guard. But in Maryland, they've gone a step further, with women in all four of the top leadership roles.

Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh has been serving as the adjutant general since 2015. In June, she brought in Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, to serve as the assistant adjutant general for Army. In August, Brig. Gen. April Vogel joined the staff as assistant adjutant general for air. Finally in December, Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson became the senior enlisted adviser for the Guard.

 "We've come a long way," she said. "And I think this just shows how far we've come."

Credit: Maryland National Guard
Army Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, the adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, speaks on the relationship between the Maryland Guard and the Bosnia-Herzegovina armed forces during an event in Sarajevo, Bosnia, commemorating 15 years as partners in the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Founded in 1993, the SPP partners National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide and now includes 75 partnerships with 81 nations. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy)

Singh is the first African-American, and the first woman to hold the position. She said the elevation of these other women happened organically, and wasn't to send a message. 

"I hope people don't think Gen. Singh just picks women," she said. "Because I have an organization that's 80 percent not women."

Brig. Gen. Birckhead said the announcement was especially meaningful for her, because she has looked up to Gen. Singh her whole career.

Credit: Maryland National Guard
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, the Maryland National Guard’s assistant adjutant general for Army, jots down notes during a meeting with Marina Pendeš, the Bosnia and Herzegovina minister of defense, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The Maryland Guard and the Bosnian armed forces are celebrating 15 years of partnership as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, which pairs up National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. Begun in 1993, the program now includes 75 partnerships with 81 countries. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy)

"We couldn't have done it without women that came before us..." she said. "General Singh is definitely a motivator for me. And early on in our careers, I'm sure she was like 'can she please just go away.'"

All of them referenced obstacles they faced, including the lack of female leaders in the military. 

"When I first came in," said. Brig. Gen. Vogel. "There weren't a lot of females sitting at the head of the table or in positions of authority. And what I would say is just do it."

Credit: Maryland National Guard
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, the adjutant general of U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. April Vogel, the Maryland National Guard’s assistant adjutant general for Air, answers a question during an “American Corners” event with local high and college students in Zanica, Bosnia, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The event focused on the 15-year partnership between the Maryland Guard and the Bosnian armed forces as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program. The SPP pairs up National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. During the event Vogel shared her personal experiences in the U.S. military as well as the ongoing relationship between The Maryland Guard and Bosnia. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy) the Maryland National Guard, shares a laugh with members of the joint staff of the Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces during a meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The Maryland Guard and the Bosnian armed forces are celebrating 15 years of partnership as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, which pairs up National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. Begun in 1993, the program now includes 75 partnerships with 81 countries. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy)

Command Sgt. Maj.Wilson said it was also about breaking down stereotypes, surrounding the military. 

"The mindset has to still change," she said. "There are still some mindsets that feel like women shouldn't be in these positions even though we're there working side by side with our  male counterparts every day."   

Credit: Capt. Cody Starken
Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. is the senior enlisted adviser

All four of the leaders are mothers, something which they take pride in.

"I love that we are all moms," said Singh. "And people say, 'can you have it all?" Well, maybe you can't have it all at one time. But over time, you can have it all." 

All four of the women said they were inspired by each other, and were able to elevate to their positions, due to the support of other female Guard members. 

"We are some powerful women," added Birckhead. "And we know our business."

As for their message to young girls out there, the four have a similar messages.

"We just want to have those young ladies aspire to be whatever they want to be," said Wilson. 

"It's all about equality," said Singh.