FORT LEE, Va. – Michelle K. Donahue, 56th Quartermaster General, pinned on the rank of brigadier general during a promotion ceremony June 24 at the Army Women’s Museum here.
Numerous leaders from the Sustainment Center of Excellence packed the venue. Audience members included Maj. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, and former Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, retired Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Gregg. Mentors, special friends and family who have long-supported Donahue’s career also proudly observed the proceedings that were livestreamed on the Quartermaster Corps Facebook page.
Retired Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over his third consecutive promotion ceremony for Donahue. She was a special assistant to the general both when he served as the 37th Chief of Staff of the Army and his subsequent position as the JCS chairman.
Dempsey offered remarks about the special occasion. He addressed the difficulty of the selection process for brigadier general, comparing it to “passing through the eye of a needle.”
“Every year, we pick about 40 colonels to become generals out of a pool of at least 2,000-plus,” Dempsey pointed out. “Some aren’t qualified, but … there are hundreds who are, and Michelle has been selected from such a pool. We pick brigadier generals (without knowing) who is going to be the next major general, lieutenant general or the next four-star. When we pick them, we want to make sure (they) have that potential. We are pinning on one star, but we’re symbolizing the fact that this officer has the potential to actually lead the entire Army at some point.”
Dempsey emphasized to Donahue that wearing her rank will require attributes such as character, inquisitiveness, inclusion and humility – and he reassured her that she had all of those traits in abundance. He then acknowledge there are no easy jobs that come across the resume of a brigadier general, but he is confident that she is capable of taking on her new role.
“You’ve earned this distinction, and I know – actually, all of us know – you’ll thrive with this new responsibility for our Army.”
Before closing his remarks, Dempsey offered a final piece of advice to Donahue.
“Everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.” That quote by author H. Jackson Brown Jr., was then explained. “Think about it in the context of the last couple of years and the fear that has gripped us and the things we love. … If you can be the kind of leader who recognizes that reality in the people around you, and you can help them navigate through it, then you will be the kind of leader we need you to be. My advice is to just keep being yourself and follow your instincts. You have to admit, they’ve worked pretty well for you so far.”
Donahue warmly smiled as members of her family affixed new rank insignia to her uniform and presented accompanying headgear. She was presented her general officer belt with gold buckle and sidearm by the CASCOM commander. Dempsey administered her oath of office.
Stepping up to the microphone for remarks, Donahue first offered special thanks to the quartermaster cadre and staff for their work. She then reflected on the significance of why her ceremony and reception were hosted at the Army Women’s Museum.
“I thought it was only fitting to conduct this ceremony here today as I’m forever in debt to the Quartermaster Corps for giving me an equal opportunity to succeed,” Donahue said. “It’s also fitting that we honor the generations of women veterans who paved the way for me to join the ranks of 24 other female gender officers on active duty today.”
Thanking Dempsey for being the host of the ceremony, Donahue expressed gratitude toward him for signing a memorandum in 2013 that allowed women to serve in combat.
“Most of the branches back in the 90’s still had combat as well as sustainment positions and maneuver battalions that were closed to women,” she said. “I’m in debt to General Dempsey for many reasons. … (Among them is) believing that trust transcends gender and for championing the repeal of the combat exclusion rule for women.”
Donahue recalled another memory that “reaffirmed her commitment to the Army.” As a young child, she always wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps as an Air Force pilot. After a visit to Duke University and watching the famous East Regional Final, Duke vs. Kentucky, game in 1992, she said she was deeply inspired by Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a selfless leader. It was a month later that Donahue chose Duke and an Army ROTC scholarship over the Air Force Academy.
“Twenty-five years later, I’m proud to be a Soldier in the only institution in the world that empowers us with an unrivaled level of responsibility, accountability and trust to defend our constitution, while also making a difference in the lives of those we lead so this team can fight and win our nations wars.”
The rest of Donahue’s comments focused on family, friends, mentors and those with whom she has served.
“Please know that the Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers I have served with over the last 25 years are an incredible testament to our Army,” she said. “I hope they realize it is on their shoulders I stand today. Thank you to our Army leadership for allowing me to continue to serve as the 56th Quartermaster General and for the opportunity to continue to serve our Soldiers, DA Civilians, their families, our Army and our nation.”
Donahue has been the Quartermaster General since May 2020. Over her 24 years of Army service, she has served in every echelon of command from platoon leader to sustainment brigade commander. Her combat deployments include Jordan in 2003, Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2014.
A recording of Donahue’s promotion ceremony can still be viewed at www.Facebook.com/QuartermasterSchool.