Major General Sheryl Gordon’s motto perfectly encapsulates this trailblazing Alabamian: “Have a mentor and be a mentor.”
Gordon, the first female to ever command the Alabama National Guard as the state adjutant general, followed her father’s and brother’s footsteps when she entered officer candidate school after graduation from Selma High School and then college. She has been breaking down barriers ever since, whether it was being commissioned as second lieutenant in 1981 or becoming the first female general officer in state history in 2009.
However, at every point along the way, Gordon has done more than carve a path for others to follow — she has gone out of her way, as a personal mission, to bring others along with her throughout her leadership journey.
This has been evident not just in her estimable military service, as Gordon was also an educator for two decades at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City where she taught chemistry for 10 years before becoming vice principal.
Whether it was helping military subordinates or her students, day-in, day-out, Gordon has exemplified what it means to be a true public servant.
“The most rewarding part of my journey has been witnessing the military, civilian, and personal successes of young soldiers and airmen,” she told Yellowhammer News. “It is very similar to my experiences as a high school teacher and administrator. You are always pleased to see that your students have become confident and productive members of society. I view my job now, just as I did in education, to provide the soldiers and airmen the proper training and opportunities for them to excel in their lives.”
For aspiring professionals and students alike, it certainly does not hurt to have a role model like Gordon to emulate, too.
She assumed her duties as the 42nd adjutant general of the Alabama National Guard on July 28, 2017. In this position, she advises the governor on military affairs and commands the Alabama Army and Air National Guard and its more than 12,000 citizen soldiers and airmen.
Gordon’s resume is as impressive as you will come across. Immediately prior to her current role, she respectively served as executive director of the National Guard Association of Alabama, assistant adjutant general and commander of 62nd Troop Command in Montgomery. Having been awarded over a dozen different medals and ribbons, including the Meritorious Service Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters and the Humanitarian Service Medal, leading by example has always been important to Gordon, especially with the increased scrutiny of serving in a historically male field.
One of the keys to overcoming some of the unique challenges of being a woman in the military, Gordon advised, was pushing her educational attainment higher and higher. She holds a BS in secondary education and MAS in administration from Auburn University Montgomery, a BS in biology from Birmingham Southern College and a MSS in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
While it was not always easy going, Gordon explained how times have changed over the years with “qualified females” now holding specialty assignments across the board in the armed forces.
“Early in my career, women were relegated to more traditional female roles, i.e. personnel, administration, medical, clerical. Many of the military occupational specialties were closed to women and many units were closed to women,” she outlined. “Through the years, more specialties and units became open to females. We now have female aviators, and infantry, armor, field artillery, etc.”
Gordon said, “I always made sure that I was educationally qualified (military and civilian) for the next higher level. When I would move to a new unit, the process of proving my competency would start anew. I also took the job assigned to me and did it to the best of my ability with a positive attitude.”
“Things became easier as I rose in rank and continued to serve with many males with whom I had previously served and already demonstrated my competency and abilities. The younger soldiers accepted me because the older ones accepted me.”
Gordon has come a long way from struggling for acceptance. Gov. Kay Ivey, in appointing her to command the state’s National Guard two years ago, quite rightly hailed Gordon as “a trailblazer and visionary leader.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to add another superlative on top of the governor’s plaudits, naming Maj. Gen. Sheryl Gordon a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn