Promotion to brigadier general 'bittersweet'
September 20, 2013
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Maria Gervais' promotion to brigadier general Friday was a celebration with family -- her actual family and her Army family.
They came from hundreds of miles away. Her brother. Her sisters. Her daughter. Even her former colleagues.
They were all there at Waybur Theater as Gervais, U.S. Army Cadet Command's deputy commanding general, pinned on her first star.
But there were two notable absences, two who had been part of all of Gervais' military achievements, from her Basic Camp graduation on Fort Knox 28 years ago up through her promotion to colonel.
"It is a bittersweet day," Gervais said. "My mom and dad were very influential in my life. They made me who I am."
The promotion was the second for Cadet Command deputy commanders in four months. Brig. Gen. Erik Peterson was promoted in mid-May, just a couple of weeks before he was reassigned to Korea.
Gervais joined the command in late May. President Obama recommended her for promotion to brigadier general in July.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, the director of the Army Office of Business Transformation, served as host of the promotion. He has been a mentor to Gervais for much of the 10 years he has known her, including during her most recent assignment at the Department of the Army's G-8 at the Pentagon.
Spoehr described Gervais as an officer with strong values and character. Highlighting the rarity of general officer promotions -- only about 30 colonels are chosen each year -- he said Gervais stood out within a deep pool of talent.
"She is exactly the type of officer we need leading our Army in the uncertain strategic and fiscal future that lies ahead," Spoehr said.
Gervais' varied assignments and career path set her up for success, he said.
After graduating Basic Camp, the predecessor to the Leader's Training Course, Gervais went on to become a 1987 ROTC commissionee from Lander College in South Carolina. She met her husband, Chris, a lieutenant colonel with the Human Resources Command, while in the program.
A chemical officer, Gervais has served in a variety of roles during her career. Among them were platoon leader and executive officer during Operations Desert Shield/Storm. She also has been a nuclear, biological, chemical director, company commander and an intern to the Joints Chiefs of Staff.
While with the 21st Theater Support Command in Germany, Gervais, deployed to Turkey, was a logistical planner for Operation Freedom. She went on to become the first female to lead the 82nd Chemical Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and is a former chief of staff for the Army Chemical School and Maneuver Support Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
After commanding the U.S. Army Environmental Command for nearly two years in Maryland, Gervais took over in May 2010 as chief of staff for the director of the Iraq Train and Advise Mission. In that role, she was responsible for building force capability for the ministry of interior and police forces.
Prior to joining Cadet Command, she most recently served as the division chief for full dimension protection in the Army G-8 at the Pentagon.
Standing on the Waybur Theater stage, Gervais was flanked by her several family members, her husband and daughter, Brandi, swapped the shoulder boards of a colonel she had worn with those woven with a single silver star. She also received a traditional pistol belt, pistol and general officer flag.
Gervais attributed her success over the years to many others, namely her family and fellow Army leaders, like Spoehr, who helped guide her. But it all started with her upbringing.
Gervais' father was a retired warrant officer in the Air Force and Army who once told her success as an officer was 85 percent being professional and 15 percent knowing when to keep one's mouth shut.
"He said to take pride in wearing the uniform and always understand that it's a privilege and an honor to wear the uniform, not a right," said Gervais, one of nine children.
She remembers her mother being her biggest supporter, saying to a younger Maria the only person who could stop her from making her dreams reality was herself. But when Gervais brought her ROTC uniform home for the first time, her mother broke down in tears.
It took Gervais 10 years to ask her why she had become so emotional.
"She said she had never been happier and that opportunities would be endless in the Army," Gervais said. "And though I was leaving my family, I was gaining an Army family."
It has been those families that have propelled Gervais to the senior ranks of the military, she said. Sure, she might have impacted others as a leader over the years, but they had just as profound an impact on her. And Friday's promotion was indicative of their influence.
"The significance of this promotion is not lost on me," Gervais said. "All of the kind words said in this promotion will help me strive to do better, to work harder and ensure everything that I do is for the right reasons and for our Soldiers.
"I'll never forget that it is a privilege, and not a right, to lead America's sons and daughters."