Bernadette White may never make history as the “first woman” to do or accomplish any one thing, but as a valued member of the community, she is helping shape the futures of Fort Gordon community members.
White, an Army Community Service specialist, spends a significant amount of her time assisting service members and their families through ACS programs primarily designed to prepare for service members’ mission-related absences. She is also the Emergency Family Assistance Center coordinator – a role in which she ensures members of the military community receive support and assistance following an emergency.
“I get the privilege of helping military families understand the mission and where they fit into the big picture,” she explained. “It’s not an easy thing, constant change, so once they figure out how they fit into the mission and into the bigger picture, it makes it easier for them to carve out what works for them with their routines and with their families.”
If anyone understands the importance of this mission, it’s White. Having been on all sides of the military spectrum – first as a military child, then a Soldier, spouse, Veteran and parent – White has a multitude of life experiences that make her perfect for the job.
“The way of life I grew up with – the moving around going to different installations, sometimes meeting friends at the next duty station or sometimes paving the way for our friends to come join us at the next duty station – it was a way of life that I grew up with … and now my children know the same lifestyle.”
Growing up, White was one of five children. Her father served 21 years in the military, and her mother was a stay-at-home parent. Although her mother did not have a paying job outside the home, White said that she watched her work hard and excel at many things, to include speechwriting for command ceremonies, sewing, and helping others in the military community.
“Being the homemaker she was with five children, each two years apart, you can just imagine what that was like for her back in the ‘60s, the 70s,” White said. “Picking up and moving our family overseas and state-to-state … she did some great things that put her in my view as a very strong woman, and at the same time, I saw her very involved in the military community.”
Those views, along with her experiences as a military child and having other family members who served, are what led White to join the Army. She enlisted out of high school, serving honorably from 1985 to 1992, with a Gulf War deployment. While stationed in Korea, she met her husband, who was also active-duty at the time. A short time later, she turned in her Army gear and took on her new role as a military spouse and eventually mother of four. But unlike her own mother, she opted to work outside of the home.
“It was easier I think, for me, because of the time, to go out into the workforce and work, as it may not have been as easy for my mom to do the same,” White said.
Prior to joining Fort Gordon ACS in 2015, White worked as a family readiness support assistant for 35th Signal Brigade. She also worked for ACS in Germany during the early 2000s. And much like her life was shaped largely by her parents, White’s life has influenced others – particularly her oldest daughter.
Looking back on her own childhood, White’s daughter, Staff Sgt. Jalisa White, said she remembers wanting to be “just like mom” when she grew up, adding that she watched her parents “spit-shine” their boots and would occasionally try to help and walk around in them. There was little doubt from a young age that she was going to join the military, and nothing was going to stop her.
“Growing up, I never really felt like women couldn’t do anything, because I had seen my mom do so much, and seeing that she was able to join the military and be successful in the military, that let me know from a young age that I can do it, too,” Jalisa said.
As a teenager, Jalisa’s views of the military evolved as she continued to watch her mother. In a house where her father was often gone for work due to training or deployment, Jalisa said her mother remained a “steadfast figure” in her siblings’ lives. It was through this that she learned to be resilient.
“She showed us how things can be seen in a different light, so even though it wasn’t always super great that dad wasn’t home, it was still OK,” Jalisa said. “I think lessons like that really are what help me to be successful to this day, because a lot of things that I’ve had to do have required me to think outside the box … to figure out ways to overcome and be resilient.”
Laura Batule, ACS director, has been working with White since August 2018. Batule said it was immediately apparent upon their meeting that she cares about the Fort Gordon community.
“As a Veteran and military spouse herself, she brings empathy and expertise,” Batule said. “It is great to have a member of the ACS team who uses her life experiences to provide the very best service to our Fort Gordon community."
At the end of the day, White said she is just doing her job, but also gives credit for other women in her life. If not for them, she might not be where she is today.
“Every woman who has poured into me some nugget of wisdom, some advice – those are the women who have influenced me to be the person that I am,” White said. “I’m not a trailblazer in that I wasn’t the first woman in my family to join the military or the first to do anything. I am just who I am.”