Virginia National Guard welcomes first all-female battalion command team

Lt. Col. Jennifer R. Martin, commander of the Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, stands beside Command Sgt. Maj. Rhonda L. Williams, the senior noncommissioned officer for the R&R Battalion, following a change of responsibility ceremony Dec. 5, 2017, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Williams and Martin form the state’s first all-female battalion command team. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Command Sgt. Maj. Rhonda L. Williams took responsibility as the senior noncommissioned officer of the Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion from Command Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Stockhausen Dec. 5, 2017, in a change of responsibility ceremony held at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Williams joins Lt. Col. Jennifer Rothgeb Martin, battalion commander for the R&R Battalion, in forming the Virginia National Guard’s first all-female battalion command team.

“There is no longer a glass ceiling,” Martin said. “The sky is the limit if you just remain competitive, stay on top of your education and go for those goals and dream and find strong mentors, there is no reason you cannot make it to the top, if that’s what you’d like to do.”

In addition to becoming the first female team to lead a battalion in the state, Martin is the first woman to command the R&R battalion, while Williams is the unit’s first female to hold the senior NCO position.

Williams started her military career almost 30 years ago, when she was a student at Old Dominion University while also working part time at a credit union in the Hampton Roads area. A friend of hers talked often about the National Guard and connected Williams with a recruiter. Just a few months later, she boarded her first airplane and flew to South Carolina for Basic Training and, later, Advanced Individual Training.

Upon her return, she was assigned to what was then the 329th Area Support Group, as an administrative specialist. She was one of only a few junior enlisted Soldiers. She served in the 54th Field Artillery Brigade, switching her military occupational specialty to become a signal support systems specialist. She was promoted to staff sergeant after spending several years at the top of the promotion list when 3rd Battalion, 111th Air Defense Artillery opened up slots for females in their headquarters unit.

Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Williams deployed to Fort Belvoir in support of Operation Noble Eagle, where she worked in the Provost Marshal Office. After a year spent on active duty, Williams decided to apply for an Active Guard Reserve position. Martin, who was then Capt. Jennifer Rothgeb, was on the hiring board and hired Williams as her readiness NCO.

Williams served as a first sergeant in the 3647th Maintenance Company, 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group for two years before deploying to Kuwait with the 529th CSSB as an operations NCO.

“That was probably the busiest I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Williams said of her Kuwait deployment. Still, she enrolled in the Sergeants Major Academy, was selected for promotion and became the 329th RSG’s brigade operations sergeant major. Later, she applied for the command sergeant major position with R&R and was selected for the job. Her selection as a command sergeant major makes her the first African American female to hold in the Virginia Army National Guard.

“Every since I came out of the first sergeant position, my goal is to try and encourage more females to apply for those positions and to try and figure out what’s holding female Soldiers back from applying for those jobs,” Williams explain.

For Martin, joining the Virginia National Guard was her plan since before she even entered high school.

“I am number four of six kids and my father is a construction worker and my mom is a school bus driver,” Martin said. “I had no money or opportunities for college, so since eighth grade, at 13-years-old, I knew I was joining the Virginia National Guard to help me pursue my college career.”

Martin spent two years as an enlisted Soldier and two years as a cadet before earning her commission at James Madison University. She said she initially planned to serve six years and then pursue other opportunities outside of the military, but that she fell in love with it and stayed in. Martin has now served more than 25 years in the Virginia National Guard.

“There are a lot more opportunities for females in the National Guard and in the Army as a whole, especially now that combat arms are opening up to females,” Martin said. “I never really imagined, [because] it’s been over 400 years that the Guard has existed, that this is the first females to hold these positions for the Virginia National Guard.”

Williams, echoing Martin’s sentiment said, “The military, and especially the Guard, is more receptive to females being in leadership roles.” She said she doesn’t often see much focus or encouragement on military women in leadership roles, but that she wants to see more marketing that highlights both the accomplishments of women who serve and the opportunities that are available for females considering a career in the military.

“I hope this inspires others by seeing that we made it to this level together,” Martin said.