For a self-professed African-American tomboy, 1975 probably wasn't the right time to join the military if you were looking for a "man's" job. Women back then were often relegated to clerical or administrative support positions.
But that didn't stop Master Sgt. Gloria D. Samuels from signing on the dotted line and taking every opportunity the military could give her. Growing up in a foster home since she was five, Samuels first enlisted into the Air Force right after high school.
"I got out after four years," Samuels said. "There weren't as many jobs for women, so I left," she added. She went back home to her foster family and she decided to look for her real mother, which brought her to New Jersey and the New Jersey Army National Guard.
"I found I really missed the military, so I joined the National Guard," she said. "And became the first female in the 104th Engineers," she said. Samuels had realized that after taking on several jobs waitressing, that she missed the military.
She said it wasn't until she was on an unemployment line when the opportunity to come back presented itself to her. "I was in the unemployment office and they saw that I had been in the military so they explained the National Guard to me and I joined." She would soon have to leave the service because she became pregnant; a status frowned upon in the military, especially in the late seventies.
"I remember (other Soldiers) would tell me that I was a disgrace to the uniform," she said. The Army now permits single parents to join without the stigma or loss of custody of their child, Samuels said.
She didn't let that stop her from coming back into the service eight years later, and acquiring seven different occupations, becoming the first female within the New Jersey National Guard to attain some of them.
"I don't know if these Soldiers (now) understand how the (Army) has changed in regards to females and African-Americans," she said.
"I have been seeing African-Americans in all sorts of high ranks that I remember weren't as common then," she said. Samuels takes pride in having made it to master sergeant, crediting perseverance and hard work as a cornerstone to her success.
"As long as you try your best and strive to attain the highest level, you can make it,' she said.
Samuels grew up during a time where she could remember segregated water fountains and attending the same high school during a time frame portrayed in the movie "Remember the Titans."
"We are like this huge melting pot now and it seems no one knows of the struggles that had to happen," she said.
The highlight of this change was when she watched the country elect its first black president, Barack Obama.
"I cried that day and had to explain to my grandkids why I was doing that," Samuels said. "We've changed and we are not looking at people the same way anymore."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16