FORT JACKSON, S.C. – Leaders who embark upon the unique yet challenging position of commanding Soldiers undergo one of their military career's most demanding and rewarding endeavors. Leading future generations of our nation's servicemen and women is a commendable milestone.
The 4th Brigade (Personnel Services), a down-trace unit of the 94th Training Division-Force Sustainment, gathered at Fort Jackson's Victory Field to bid farewell to Col. Janene Marshall-Gatling and welcome Col. Aaron Wilkes as the new brigade commander during the unit's change of command ceremony July 11, 2020.
For Marshall-Gatling, a Troop Program Unit Soldier and franchise owner of College Nannies and Tutors in South Naperville, Illinois, upon notification of selection for brigade command in 2018, multiple sentiments rose.
"I was filled with excitement and nervousness simultaneously," she said. "After I relished in the flood of emotions, I was able to relax with the comfort of knowing I was returning to the 94th Division, where I had previously served as a battalion commander."
"Initially, my goal was to increase the instructor strength and recruit Soldiers to join the 94th Family," she said. "That evolved into ensuring we had quality Soldiers in the 94th ranks over quantity while ensuring the instructors had all the skills, resources, and technical expertise to accomplish the mission."
For Marshall-Gatling, preparing for her new position entailed reading up on the 4th BDE (PS), working closely with her brigade command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Coots and staff to grasp the functionality of the unit's infrastructure. With Marshall-Gatling being a TPU Soldier, this would require an extensive coordinated strategy to balance her civilian obligations with those of the military.
Although balance is not a term in Marshall-Gatling's dictionary, she succeeded at fulfilling essential milestones that contributed to her command's success. The establishment of a team to train instructors - train-the-trainer - which increased instructors' strength, and increasing Family Readiness Group involvement were among her achievements. Goal setting significantly contributed to Marshall-Gatling's successful time in command.
"I could not and would not be able to complete command without the assistance and support of my staff and my right hand, CSM Coots," said Marshall-Gatling. "You need to listen to your staff and ask for their opinion. I wanted to ensure everyone felt like a valuable member of my team. You also need to envision where you want to take the brigade and how to get there."
Coots shared his work experience with the outgoing commander and her dedication to duty displayed during her tenure.
"Col. Marshall-Gatling was constantly committed to Soldier care and mission readiness. She used visits to our down-trace battalions and school locations as an opportunity to speak with the instructors and students, and she provided insight to the Adjutant General world from an O-6 perspective," said Coots. "She continuously encouraged our instructors to perform multiple missions to gain experience in their respective career fields."
Marshall-Gatling expressed that the challenge of command is how to weigh the mission's needs with individual needs.
"You have to make the tough decisions," she said. She highlighted her sentiment about the challenge of being a commander by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Marshall-Gatling, who has dedicated 25 years of military service to our nation, did more than achieve mission readiness milestones during her command tenure. She is the 4th Brigade's first African American commander. Having made history in the Army's largest training division, Marshall-Gatling gave insight about her reaction once she learned of her momentous feat that will forever be etched in the military history of the 94th TD-FS.
"I am in awe and amazement that I could be the first," said Marshall-Gatling. "There have been many before me. I am grateful for all of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion personnel. They were an all-black battalion of the Women's Army Corps. The 6888th had 855 black women, both enlisted and officers, led by Maj. Charity Adams Earley. It is those women whose shoulders I stand on. Without out them, there would be no Col. Janene Marshall-Gatling."
As a new historical figure, Marshall-Gatling understands to be a trailblazer means mentoring the future cohort of Soldiers to come.
"It is imperative that I coach, teach, and mentor the next generation to achieve greater heights, do more, and dream big," she said. "All things are possible when you believe and have faith. The Army has led the way in countless historical events, but there are still more ways to improve. There is always room to grow."