Pennsylvania National Guard

Woman Warrior Wednesday: Jessica L. Wright, Acting Principle Dep. Asst. Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs

WrightPortrait Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then Brig. Gen. Jessica Wright, was summoned to Washington, D.C. At the end of a long day, which included learning that a good friend had died at the Pentagon, she and a few colleagues stopped at a little out-of-the-way Mexican restaurant. A group of men with cords in their ears arrived and Wright found herself face to face with her commander in chief.

Dressed in civilian clothes, Wright looked like any other citizen. One of her friends said, "Mr. President, this is Jessica Wright, and she’s a general in the Pennsylvania National Guard." When the President and Mrs. Bush were leaving, he walked to the table and said, "General, be ready." "Sir, we are ready," came the reply. Keeping one of the largest National Guard forces in the United States "ready," became the responsibility of Major General Jessica L Wright, the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania; the first woman ever to hold the position.

To those who know Wright, her history-making appointment was no surprise.

She grew up outside of Pittsburgh in a self-described blue-collar family, where "everyone worked." Her grandparents were coal miners, her mother worked full time, and her father held down two jobs, which may be why her parents insisted she get an education. Wright attended a small college in West Virginia where she graduated with a degree in social work.

Finding a job proved to be difficult, so she came home and enlisted in the National Guard, where, she says, “One opportunity led to another”.

One of those opportunities was flight school. "I was young and adventurous. There were people who didn’t think women belonged in flight school. They kept telling me I should be a nurse. Those people are still around. They’ve just gotten older, not wiser."

Upon graduating from flight school, in 1978, Jessica Wright became the first female Army aviator in the Army National Guard. Wright’s bio is filled with firsts, like being the Army’s first maneuver brigade commander; and it’s replete with honors, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and Senior Army Aviator badge.

In the fall of 2010, Wright retired with the rank of Major General from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. After such a career, many might rest on their laurels…or oak leaf cluster.

In November, 2010, Jessica Wright joined the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, where she currently serves as the acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, at the Pentagon. In that position Wright is a key advisor to and responsible for all matters of the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, as they relate to the men and women of the Guard and Reserve, with specific responsibility for all manpower, medical and personnel policy matters supporting 1.2 million members of the reserve components of the United States Armed Forces.

Jessica Wright continues to serve her country and her fellow soldiers, while providing an outstanding role model for women who want to build a successful military career.

Note: Portions of this post are from a previous interview I conducted with Major General Wright, and which appeared in my column in The Morning Call on January 2, 2004

Citizen Soldiers On The Front Lines

Battle captain w-hdstStarting with the militias of the Revolutionary War, when farmers would drop their plows, pick up their muskets, and run toward the sound of the battle, ordinary citizens have been protecting our freedoms. Never more so than in this age of terrorism, fighting an unconventional enemy thousands of miles from home.

The strain on the country’s military has spilled over to the “citizen soldiers” of the National Guard, many of whom have been deployed multiple times, resulting in distraught families and disrupted lives. Among the states whose US National Guard units have paid the heaviest price for the “War on Terror” is Pennsylvania, whose Guard is one of the largest, best equipped, and most deployed Guards in the country. The price for that honor has been high: Pennsylvania has lost more National Guard soldiers than any other state; 48 of our family, friends, and neighbors have been lost.

Beginning in early 2012, the 55th BCT will once again head for foreign shores when they deploy to Kuwait for one year mission. More about the training, preparation, and ramp-up to that deployment in today’s column in The Morning Call

My God protect them and may they all return safely to their families. 

One Evening…Many Stories

Thread_Postcard-1On Wednesday, March 31, in a little over two weeks, a very special event will take place here in the Lehigh Valley. It’s not a glamorous society outing, although there will be wine and hors d’oeuvres, it doesn’t cost very much money to attend, and what cost there is is a tax deductible contribution to a very worthy cause. Rather it is a one-of-a-kind celebration of love, loss, courage, and most of all the indefatigable strength of the human spirit.

The reason the Benefit Screening of the documentary “Thread”, and the panel discussion that will follow, is so unique is because until now, you would have had to travel to New York or San Francisco to share this experience. But now, the many people and their stories whose lives have intersected a half a world away, will come together, here, at our own Cedar Crest College, for one common cause; to support the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the Afghan women associates of the Business Council for Peace. .

The evening will include members of the Pennsylvania National Guard; heroes who have served in Afghanistan. There will also be well known members of the community whose generosity have helped to support the event; Bob & Sandy Lovett, Vic & Jody Mazziotti, Joe & Judy Kaminski, and Sally Gammon. The producer and director of the film, who took their lives in their hands to make this movie will be there, as well as the founder of Bpeace, who started the organization after witnessing the events of 9-11, firsthand. Palwasha

And there will be Palwasha; young, beautiful, smart and determined to help save her country. Palwasha is one of the Afghan women featured in “Thread”. Out of all the stories that will come together that night; all the “Threads” that will weave the tapestry that is “their” Afghanistan, few will be more moving than hers. Pursued by a village elder for marriage at a young age, her parents refused him and encouraged her to get an education. What was done to save one daughter could not save the other. Palwasha’s younger sister disappeared on her way to school and has never been seen again.

If you would like to hear these stories first hand, to share in this evening that will be like no other, if you would like to help the very brave women of Afghanistan, you can purchase tickets or make a donation, here.

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