AMC senior leader reflects on ‘open’ Army career during Pride Month

By Stefan AlfordJune 5, 2023

The Whicker family, from left, Kenzee, Kellee, and Marion.
The Whicker family, from left, Kenzee, Kellee, and Marion. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- Marion Whicker will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t have much of a story.

At least not in the sense as it applies to her reflections of being a gay woman working for the Army as the Department of Defense recognizes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members and civilians for their service to the nation during LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June.

Unlike many stories where sexual orientation created barriers in the workplace, elicited bias and discrimination, or hindered career advancement, Whicker’s experience bore none of those challenges as she rose from an entry-level intern to a three-star general equivalent and Army Materiel Command’s highest-ranking civilian.

She’d even disagree that she forged a successful career despite her sexual orientation; it simply had nothing to do with her story – except for one quickly remediated incident over the course of her 38-year civil service career.

“I know that everybody’s not as fortunate as I am in their coming out story or their being out story,” said Whicker, who, as the AMC executive deputy to the commanding general, oversees a $300 billion annual business portfolio for an organization that manages the Army’s global supply chain – delivering logistics support to U.S. joint forces, NATO allies, and partner nations like Ukraine. The command is one of the largest in the Army with a workforce of more than 165,000 Soldiers, civilians and contractors in all 50 states and more than 150 countries.

“I’m very appreciative of the support I get from family and work,” she continued. “The hardships (faced by others in the LGBTQ+ community) are not lost on me. I know those who have had their families turn their backs on them. Someone told me about how their parents took her to a camp to be ‘reprogrammed’ when she was growing up. She went through the motions and told them she was ‘cured,’ went off to college, and never went home again. Hearing that hurts because it shouldn’t be that way.”

Whicker began to question her sexual orientation between the ages of 18-22, and it was a few years later that she came out to her family.

“They were 100% supportive,” she recalled. “My wife Kellee’s family was also 100% supportive, which is rare, I think. In fact, when we both told our families, they were like ‘yeah, who didn’t know that?’”

Whicker attributes the non-issue of her orientation in the workplace to the DoD having long been at the forefront of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the Army embracing those ideals to create a system that maximizes individual talents, increases morale and enhances military effectiveness.

“The Army seems to have always been at the forefront of a lot of social issues because we are a reflection of society at large with the diversity of people in our workforce,” she said. “I think the civilian sector is still trying to catch up in many ways. There are companies and areas where we’ve made progress, but we still have room to grow.”

She saw, and indirectly felt, the impact of some of the challenges her wife endured not being able to be open about her identity, nor even display family photos on her desk, due to fear of possibly losing her job as a public school teacher and female sports coach.

“She didn’t have the same protections I was afforded, and I found that sad for her,” said Whicker, who added she never hid her orientation, nor felt she had to among her Army teammates.

“I was always open,” she shared. “At TACOM (Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command), I was one of the few that was ‘out,’ so to speak. The main challenge for me, early on, was that there were very few women in leadership positions as role models. I never sought to be a role model, I just always wanted to be my authentic self – I don’t know any other way to be. I’ve had people tell me ‘Thank you for being who you are. I was afraid to say something.’”

It was, however, at TACOM where she was initially denied a promotion and only found out years later that it was a supervisor’s personal bias about her orientation that almost cost her the job.

“The director above her had to intercede for me to get the job. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but later found out that it was because of my sexual orientation and not a matter of my abilities,” she said. “That’s unfortunate, but you know, there will always be pockets of individual discriminatory behavior. While that was the only time for me, I’d be naïve to say those personal attitudes don’t exist and aren’t out there. But our system, overall, minimizes and negates (overt discrimination).”

Whicker champions the Army’s policies and practices designed to recognize and reward talent without regard to personal factors such as race, gender, age, cultural background and orientation.

“I’m a product of that,” she explains. “I tell people I had the double whammy, right? I’m a female in a predominantly male environment and my sexual orientation is that I identify as gay. I don’t think either one of those things has held me back or hurt me. I think the Army, to a very great extent, does it right. I’ve been afforded opportunities based on merit.”

One such opportunity, and the one she’s most proud of, is being hand-picked for Operation Warp Speed, the federal government directed effort to produce a vaccine in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. From May 2020 – May 2021, Whicker served as the operation’s deputy chief for supply, production and distribution based on her logistics and sustainment expertise.

“I was honored to be selected to be part of the team,” she recalled with pride. “I mean, the opportunity to help your country roll out a vaccine during a time when you looked at the numbers of people who were dying every day – it’s one of the most impactful things I’ve ever done.”

Whicker was subsequently awarded the Armed Forces Civilian Services Medal for her role in the effort, as well as solidifying her reputation as one of the Army’s premier logisticians and a leader who exhibits a “transformative approach to looking at problem sets and tackling the toughest issues,” according to former AMC Commander, Gen. Ed Daly, who promptly selected her to be his executive deputy.

In addition to overseeing AMC’s business portfolio, Whicker also focuses on support for the Army’s people, modernization and readiness priorities in the areas of materiel life-cycle management, acquisition support, personnel and resource management and industrial base operations.

It’s an enormous responsibility, and testament to decades of hard work for the Michigan native who only joined the Army team in 1984 because her first choice was in an economic downturn.

“My entire family works in the auto industry in Detroit,” she explained. “But at the time I was coming out of college, jobs were limited so I originally joined the civil service with a goal of doing three years and then transitioning to the auto industry. However, with the opportunities the Army provided and the career growth possibilities, I never looked back.”

Moving forward, Whicker advanced from a GS-5 supply management specialist to become one of only 24 tier-three members of the Senior Executive Service from approximately 286,000 members of the Army Civilian Corps. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Iowa Wesleyan College and Master of Science in administration in organizational leadership from Central Michigan University.

Whicker’s wife Kellee is also a Michigan native. Although they grew up just 10 minutes apart, they didn’t meet until later, but have been together since 1990. They married in 2013, following the Supreme Court ruling on legalizing same-sex marriage. Their daughter Kenzee is pregnant with their first grandchild, and as Whicker approaches her 40th year of government service, she looks forward to retirement next year and spending more time with them.

“One of the things I do when I speak to groups is I talk about my family, because I’m proud of my family,” said Whicker. “Many times, if you want to understand someone, it’s just about having the conversation. I think if there’s anything we can do better (for wider LGBTQ+ understanding), it’s just to have those conversations if somebody has questions or concerns.”

Another way to learn more is through events or celebrations commemorating observances such as Pride Month, she added.

“Whether it’s Pride Month or Asian-American Pacific Islander Month or any of the observances that we recognize, it’s about understanding and bringing our community together,” said Whicker. “I think a lot of people might not understand why we have all these different events to celebrate our uniqueness, our differences. I always think it’s a great thing to celebrate as an opportunity to expand our understanding and learn more about people’s race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III echoed the importance of such recognition with his June 1 statement to the DoD commemorating Pride Month.

“Members of this community have deployed to combat zones around the globe, held high-ranking positions in the Pentagon, and fought and died alongside their teammates,” he said, also adding “Who you love and how you identify has nothing to do with how bravely you can fight for your country.”

He ended his message with the promise that “As Secretary of Defense, I remain dedicated to making sure that our LGBTQ+ personnel across the Joint Force can continue to serve the country that we all love with dignity and pride — this month and every other one. We thank you for your service — and we thank your spouses and your families, whose support makes your service possible.”

While Whicker realizes her personal and professional journey was primarily devoid of the angst, adversity, and heartbreak that many LGBTQ+ individuals unfortunately experience, she is glad to serve as a positive example that things can go right.

Whicker offers the following advice to those who might be struggling with sexual orientation: “Find someone to talk to. There are more peers and mentors out there than you might think. I believe, by and large, people won’t judge you. They may have questions, or they may not know how to answer all of your questions, but I believe most people are inherently good and will try to help you. I would try to find someone with whom you identify with and ask them what they went through.

“I had a new employee email me recently,” she continued, “just thanking me because they weren’t sure how they would be perceived but felt more comfortable after hearing my story.”

Perhaps not having much of a story is the story.