FORT GORDON, Ga. — March is Women’s History Month, a time to highlight and honor the contributions of women. For one Signaleer, it is also a time of personal reflection as she remembers those who helped shape who she is today.
Spending the early part of her childhood growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Sgt. Maj. Kimberly Brown learned the meaning of sacrifice at a young age. Brown’s mother left the comforts and familiarity of home for St. Louis, Missouri to be a full-time caregiver for her own mother who had fallen ill. Brown, the second eldest of four siblings, was in third grade at the time.
“That process and the entire transition caused a lot of disruption in our life,” Brown said. “My dad ended up remaining in Chicago, and my mom moved to the Missouri area where she had to fill another role as opposed to working.”
An athlete, Brown went on to attend a junior college in Kansas on a basketball scholarship with dreams of joining the Women’s National Basketball Association. She later signed with Kentucky State University, at which time she began considering a career as an airline stewardess. Then the unexpected happened, leaving Brown with a tough decision.
“Shortly after my sophomore year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer,” Brown said. “I left school in the hopes of the military continuing to pay for my education, but at the same time having some type of stability to assist my mom and my grandmother, so I ended up coming into the military in October 1996.”
It was a move Brown said her mother was extremely proud of and one that she intended to be short-term — aiming to fulfill her military contract obligation, then get out.
Brown enlisted as a human resources specialist. After about five years, she received notification for a mandatory reclassification and selected information technology specialist.
“They told me it was fixed station, and I liked computers and stuff like that … so I thought it should be an easy transition,” she said.
What began as a means of paying for college eventually became a way of life for Brown. The Army quickly proved to be an organization where she could not only push herself, but one in which she could thrive. Achieving the rank of sergeant in less than five years and making more of an impact the longer she stayed, Brown grew to love the Army and the opportunities it presented.
One memory that stands out when she reflects on her career was during her time as an Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeant at Fort Gordon 10 years ago. Brown recalls accompanying a Soldier to the battalion commander’s office. While enroute, then-Sgt. 1st Class Brown looked at the leadership sign displayed outside of the battalion headquarters and said, “My name is going to be on one of those leadership signs one day,” Brown said. “I truly believed it.”
The following year, Brown made the E-8 list and was promoted to first sergeant of B company, 442nd Signal Battalion.
“My name was out there,” she smiled.
Another career milestone came in 2017 when she was selected for promotion to sergeant major and subsequently pinned the rank in 2018. While reaching high ranks and roles in the military is to be commended, Brown said her greatest accomplishments remain her children. Brown has two sons actively serving in the Air Force who, in addition to her mom, have been her biggest motivators to succeed.
“I always set my goals that kept me focused and aligned with my children’s education and my career. Once I obtained it (E-9), I was like, ‘OK, what’s next?’” adding that success is different for everybody. “I write the definition and meaning for what it is to be successful for myself. I don’t allow somebody else to dictate that for me.”
Working in an environment where women haven’t always been widely viewed as equals to their male counterparts, Brown said she is inspired by all women who set out to accomplish goals, and Women’s History Month is the perfect time to honor all — not just one — of them.
“A lot of times we are forced to make a decision between our career or our family life, so when you see women, in general, who are doing their best to achieve that work-life balance … just watching and knowing the current roles and what women are doing is motivating,” Brown said. “I admire all women being able to do it all.”
One example of a female who stands out in her mind is Lt. Gen. Maria Barrett, U.S. Army Cyber Command commanding general — someone whose formation Brown once stood in.
“To watch her continue to climb, that’s motivation. That’s inspiration. Watching females in general go into roles that when I was younger, you never heard of it happening,” she said.
Furthermore, Brown is grateful for the men who have “assisted and kicked open doors” to such opportunities that were not previously available or as prevalent, emphasizing the importance of Women’s History Month.
“I appreciate them being accepting and being willing to share that space,” Brown said. “Women’s History Month not only helps us as women, but it also helps our male counterparts see that we are making tremendous strides and that we can be as dependable as they are.”
Currently serving as the U.S. Army Signal School Career Management sergeant major since September 2021, Brown plans to retire in November 2024 after 28 years of service. By then, she’ll have completed her master’s degree and will likely pursue a second career in human resources. Brown is also exploring the idea of volunteering in public schools by spending one-on-one time with students lacking adult mentorship.
“Even if it’s just taking the time to read to students or chaperone … whatever I can do to help ease the burden on teachers,” she said.
As she looks to the future, Brown said the only regret she has with regards to making the Army a career is that she wishes she had joined sooner. Her advice to others is, “Stay focused, stay true to yourself, and understand that the stars don’t always align the way we envision them, but be flexible. And more than anything, believe in yourself.”
Brown’s mother passed away from cancer one year after Brown joined the military but remains one of Brown’s biggest motivators to succeed and serve others.
“I know she is smiling down and one of my biggest cheerleaders,” Brown said.