Editor’s Note: To honor the legacy of the sustainers selected to represent the Home of Sustainment, Maj. Gen. Mark Simerly has provided his comments offered during the redesignation ceremony.
On April 27, leaders from across the Army converged on Fort Lee, Virginia, for its formal redesignation as Fort Gregg-Adams. The redesignation honors two exemplary Army leaders, Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg and Lt. Col. Charity Adams, both outstanding leaders and pillars of our sustainment community. As the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Senior Mission Commander of Fort Gregg-Adams, I offered the following remarks:
The service and sacrifice of Lt. Gen. Gregg and Lt. Col. Adams reflect the courage and the character of the millions of men and women who have worn this uniform and defended this nation. This historic day belongs to American Soldiers: past, present, and future.
I look forward to telling you about the two Soldiers we have gathered here to honor. Before I do, however, I would like to say a few words about the installation that now bears their name.
The area surrounding this installation has played a critical role in our Army’s history. American Soldiers fought the British near here in 1781. Eighty-three years later, U.S. Army Soldiers waged the Civil War’s decisive battle around Petersburg.
In 1917, the Army established Camp Lee to train Soldiers for combat in World War I and reactivated the base a quarter of a century later to prepare our Soldiers for World War II.
On this day 73 years ago, the Army redesignated Camp Lee as Fort Lee in recognition of its enduring importance to the Army and the nation.
Since then, this installation has become the home of Army sustainment. Today, we proudly say, “Support Starts Here.” On this installation, we train and educate a third of the Army every year, and we develop the concepts, doctrine, and organizations that sustain our Soldiers and defend our nation.
We excel at our mission due to the outstanding men and women who serve here, and because of the strong tradition of support we receive from our neighboring communities: the cities of Hopewell, Petersburg, Colonial Heights, and Prince George, Chesterfield, and Dinwiddie Counties. As Fort Gregg-Adams, we will continue to accomplish our mission.
And now, let me tell you about Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg and Lt. Col. Charity Adams.
Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg
Arthur Gregg grew up on a South Carolina farm. At the age of 13, his father sent him to Newport News, Virginia.
In 1946, he enlisted in the United States Army. Assigned to a truck company in Germany, Pvt. Gregg quickly earned a promotion and became the unit supply sergeant.
In 1950, he completed officer candidate school, received a commission in the Quartermaster Corps, and attended the officers’ basic course at Fort Lee.
Upon graduation, 2nd Lt. Gregg remained here as an instructor. During this time, he also met, courted, and married the former Charlene McDaniel of Roanoke, Virginia.
The Gregg family served assignments at various installations at home and abroad. In 1966, he assumed command of the 96th Supply and Services Battalion at Fort Riley as it was preparing for war.
In Vietnam, Gregg’s battalion helped expand Cam Ranh Bay into one of the Army’s largest supply depots and a critical part of the theater logistics network. At the same time, Gregg and his team reorganized a broken tactical supply system and dramatically improved its speed and responsiveness.
In 1972, the Army promoted him to brigadier general, making him the first Black quartermaster officer to achieve that rank.
As a general officer, Gregg distinguished himself as one of the Army’s finest senior logisticians. In 1977, President (Jimmy) Carter assigned Gregg as Director of Logistics for the Joint Staff.
He also approved his nomination for appointment to lieutenant general, making Arthur Gregg the first Black Army officer to achieve 3-star rank.
In 1979, Lt. Gen. Gregg became the Army’s first Black officer to serve as its Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics.
On July 24, 1981, at a ceremony held a few hundred yards from here, Lt. Gen. Gregg retired after more than 35 years of dedicated service to the Army and the nation. In retirement, he has continued to support the Quartermaster Foundation and the Army Logistics Branch.
In 2016, the Army created the Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Gregg Sustainment Leadership Award to recognize outstanding sustainment leaders. Lt. Gen. Gregg was, appropriately, the first recipient.
Lt. Col. Charity Adams
I will now tell you about another legendary Army sustainer. Like Arthur Gregg, Lt. Col. Charity Adams grew up in the segregated South and endured the daily oppression of Jim Crow laws.
She proved an exceptional student, graduating at the age of 15 as class valedictorian at Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, South Carolina, and earning a scholarship to Wilberforce University. After college, she returned to Columbia to teach high school science and math.
In July of 1942, she and 439 other women arrived at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, to attend the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps’ very first officer candidate school. While much of the actual training was integrated, Adams and her Black classmates were segregated into a separate platoon. In August, graduates received their commissions in alphabetic order, making Charity Adams the first Black female officer commissioned in the Army.
As a newly commissioned officer, Adams commanded Company Eight, which received, equipped, fed, and housed hundreds of Black women training to become bakers, cooks, clerks, and truck drivers. In December of 1942, Adams and three other Black women were promoted early to the rank of first officer, equivalent to an Army captain.
In May of 1943, the Army promoted Adams to major in the newly redesignated Women’s Army Corps, or WACs. In December of 1944, she was selected to lead the first, and as it turned out, the only multiracial battalion of African American and Hispanic women to serve overseas.
When it reached Birmingham, England, Adams’ unit of nearly 900 women was organized as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, with orders to reduce the European theater’s backlog of three million letters and packages. Operating out of dark, rat-infested warehouses, including six airplane hangars stuffed with Christmas packages, Adams’ battalion worked around the clock to redirect mail to waiting Soldiers. The Army expected the job to take six months. The 6888th completed its mission in three.
In April of 1945, the 6888th relocated to Rouen, France, where Adams’ Soldiers continued to provide postal support. When the Red Cross built a separate recreational facility for Black Soldiers, Adams asked her Soldiers to boycott the facility, and they complied. When the Army formed a women’s all-star basketball team, it invited several members of the 6888th to play but rescinded the invitation upon learning they were Black.
Prior to her departure from the Army in March of 1946, Adams was promoted to lieutenant colonel, making her the highest-ranking Black woman in the United States military at the time.
After her military service, Adams earned her graduate degree and married a young medical student, Stanley Earley Jr. They relocated to Dayton, Ohio, where Charity Adams-Earley became a prominent civil rights activist. She died in 2002, survived by her two children, Stanley Earley III and Judith Earley.
In 2018, the Army established a memorial at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to honor Adams and the 6888th. In 2019, the Army awarded the battalion with the Unit Citation Medal, and in 2022, Congress voted to recognize the battalion with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Courage, Dignity, and Hope
Today, we recognize Arthur Gregg and Charity Adams for their courage, their dignity, and their hope. Despite growing up in a segregated nation, these two pioneers volunteered to serve that nation in uniform.
Their service, both in war and in peace, demonstrates that courage is not confined or defined by race or gender.
As a young officer, Charity Adams repeatedly took a stand against the notion of separate but equal facilities for Black and white Soldiers, and she literally bet her bars when a senior officer patronized her in front of her troops. Offered the chance to lead the first Black women’s unit to deploy into harm’s way, she leaped at the opportunity. During her brief but extraordinary military career, she repeatedly exceeded expectations and, to borrow her own humble words, “made it as a WAC officer.”
As a young lieutenant, Arthur Gregg worked, trained, and taught in integrated units, but he was not welcome to dine at the Fort Lee Officers’ Club or swim at the Fort Lee pool while he and his wife lived in segregated quarters on post.
Despite these slights, he chose Army life as his career, commanding troops in Vietnam, serving in key logistical positions around the world, and rising to become the first Black Army officer promoted to lieutenant general.
In addition to their courage, it’s worth noting the dignity with which these two outstanding leaders met and overcame the various challenges in their lives.
I mentioned some examples of the racism and sexism they confronted. I also should acknowledge the challenges inherent in every leadership position, especially those associated with leading men and women in a combat zone.
Arthur Gregg and Charity Adams were exceptional leaders, in no small part because they led with dignity. They looked the part, they maintained their composure, and they led by example. In short, these two epitomize the professional qualities we seek in every leader who wears the uniform of the United States Army.
Finally, let me just say a few words about hope because hope is what I see when I consider the achievements of these two great Americans.
By exceeding all expectations, by breaking through visible and invisible barriers, and by doing so with courage and dignity, they offer their fellow Americans hope for a better tomorrow. The Army provided them with a way to serve their nation and build better lives. They seized the opportunity to be all they could be.
It’s been 81 years since Charity Adams was commissioned as the first Black woman in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, and 76 years since Arthur Gregg enlisted as an Army private. We have come a long way since then, and today’s redesignation is yet another example of our nation’s and our Army’s progress.
The next Charity Adams and the next Arthur Gregg are out there right now, leading Soldiers with courage and dignity, setting the example for all of us, and inspiring hope in the next generation that is the future of our Army.
That future begins right here at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia, where our motto remains: Support Starts Here!
Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly serves as the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He previously served as the commander of the 19th Expeditionary Support Command. He was commissioned as a lieutenant of Air Defense Artillery and awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Richmond. He holds a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University and a Master of Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the Army Command and General Staff College.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.