CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- It's easy to see why Soldiers gravitate to Col. Michaelle Munger.

The director of operations and brigade commander in the West Virginia Army National Guard has a gracious tone, engaging smile and laughter that resonates through the halls of Joint Forces Headquarters.

Humble yet focused, Munger leads by example and with passion, both for the mission and for those who serve with and under her.

Born in a military hospital in Aberdeen, Maryland, and from a long line of military service on both sides of her family, it might have seemed a foregone conclusion that Munger would be in the military herself. But that wasn't her original plan.

"My older brother had joined the military which planted a seed in me to serve, but it wasn't until I got to college and got a form letter stating that my G.P.A. qualified me to participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program that I began exploring the service myself," Munger said. "I talked to my dad who was prior enlisted about joining the program, and he encouraged me to do it. I joined, then applied for and was granted a scholarship which put me firmly on my current path."

Serving first on active duty, then in the Reserves, and now with the National Guard, throughout her career, Munger has always followed one simple philosophy; "grow where planted." And it is a philosophy she tries to impart on younger Soldiers and officers.

"The best advice I ever received, and what I try to live by, is, grow where you are planted. You may not like the job you are in or what you are doing, but the beauty of the military is that you aren't in that job forever," she said. "If you just rock where you are at, and do the best that you can do, doors are going to open that you never imagined. In the West Virginia National Guard, there are so many different opportunities folks can get involved in and find a niche that is rewarding and works for them."

Munger exemplifies that mantra every day.

Asked about her current role, Munger said, "I never expected to be an O-6 or a brigade commander, yet here I am. And that is a testament not only to those who mentored me through my career but to the leadership team of the West Virginia National Guard and their vision and where they want the organization to go. I didn't get here alone. No one ever does."

Munger said she is both humbled and grateful for the opportunity to lead and hopes that her service helps to motivate and inspire younger officers and Soldiers, especially women, to set high goals.

"Being in a position where you can influence other people's lives is a great responsibility," Munger said. "I take it very seriously and try to always make decisions with discernment and great pride. I hope those around me see someone who is loyal to the best interests of the Guard and give them hope to break the barriers of career advancement and growth."

While in no way defined by her gender, Munger is keenly aware of her role as the highest-ranking female in the West Virginia Army National Guard. And she feels that having a female perspective and female voice at the table is an essential element in promoting Army values.

"Having a female voice at the table is critical in strengthening our National Guard," she said. "What we bring to the mission is unique not because we are females, but because of our ability to approach the mission in perhaps a different perspective and viewpoint. Additionally, by being at the table, we have the ability to display our competency and capabilities and to dispel stereotypes in order to help younger Soldiers not face the same gender-related limitations and hurdles we might have faced in our own careers. Every Soldier needs to be heard and judged based not on their sex, but by their ideas and vision."

Asked about her view of opportunities women now may take advantage of, Munger beamed with pride.

"As I look around our military and our nation, barriers are being broken by leaps and bounds. And while we still have a long way to go, the overall trend of societal growth for women to assume positions of leadership and responsibility, both in the military and the civilian sector, should bring hope to others. Watching the growth and change in opportunities for women through the years has been exciting. Long-term, I am excited to see that women are judged by their capabilities above all else."

When asked what she hopes her reputation and legacy in the West Virginia National Guard is and will be, Munger was quick to answer.

"I hope I am remembered as having influenced for the better," she said. "She really cared… not just about the mission but about the Soldiers. I want to enable folks to come to work and feel proud of what they do. My own method to success has been perseverance and self-reflection. And I try to instill in every Soldier I work with to be the 4 Ps; Productive, Present, Prompt, Professional. I am super excited for the talented, smart, bright, energetic younger crop of women now entering the military and the opportunities and doors that are continually opening to them. They inspire me, and hopefully, I inspire them too."