Women’s History Month: Signaleer rises to the top despite odds

By Laura LeveringMarch 21, 2024

Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy speaks during a Women's History Month panel at Eisenhower Conference & Catering on March 15. The panel featured eight prominent female leaders from across the installation and highlighted the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in today’s Army through open discussions and questions from the audience.
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy speaks during a Women's History Month panel at Eisenhower Conference & Catering on March 15. The panel featured eight prominent female leaders from across the installation and highlighted the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in today’s Army through open discussions and questions from the audience. (Photo Credit: Laura Levering, U.S. Army Signal School) VIEW ORIGINAL
Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy, Cyber Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy’ commandant, speaks with Sgt. 1st Class Kiersten Nettles, Bravo Company, 551st Signal Battalion senior drill sergeant,  following a Women's History Month event at Fort Eisenhower on March 15.
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy, Cyber Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy’ commandant, speaks with Sgt. 1st Class Kiersten Nettles, Bravo Company, 551st Signal Battalion senior drill sergeant, following a Women's History Month event at Fort Eisenhower on March 15. (Photo Credit: Laura Levering, U.S. Army Signal School) VIEW ORIGINAL
Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy, fourth from left, poses for a group photo following a Women's History Month panel at Eisenhower Conference & Catering on March 15. Gandy was one of eight female leaders from across Fort Eisenhower, Georgia, to participate as members of a panel.
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy, fourth from left, poses for a group photo following a Women's History Month panel at Eisenhower Conference & Catering on March 15. Gandy was one of eight female leaders from across Fort Eisenhower, Georgia, to participate as members of a panel. (Photo Credit: Laura Levering, U.S. Army Signal School) VIEW ORIGINAL
Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy is the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s first-ever female commandant.
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy is the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s first-ever female commandant. (Photo Credit: US ARMY) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT EISENHOWER, Ga. – From single mother to senior leader in the Army, Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy’s military career has been one of trials and triumphs.

The daughter of a Navy master chief and an athlete growing up, Gandy originally had her sights set on becoming an architect. Following high school graduation, she went on to college for architectural engineering. Three years in, and on a soccer scholarship, Gandy became pregnant and found herself having to make some crucial life decisions.

“I was a single parent working full-time, trying to raise my daughter, and it just became too much,” Gandy recalled. “That’s when I joined.”

Dec. 30, 1997. It was a day that unbeknownst to her at the time would change her life’s path forever.

“I spent New Years waiting for Basic [Combat] Training to start … had to ship before New Years to help my recruiter make his quota for the year,” she laughed. “But I didn’t actually start training until Jan. 6, 1998, when all the drill sergeants came back from [holiday block leave] and the other recruits showed up.”

Despite a less-than-stellar welcome to the Army, Gandy stuck with it and graduated from Advanced Individual Training at then-Fort Gordon as a network switching systems operator/maintainer (now 25F). Today, more than 26 years later, she serves as the Cyber Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s first-ever female commandant.

“My whole intent was to just do the four years, get my feet under me, get healthcare for my daughter, and I here I am – at 26 years in,” she said.

As for the reason she chose a signal military occupational specialty, Gandy said she qualified for a host of others, but did not want a job that required a lot of time sitting a desk.

“They showed me a video of some signal Soldiers climbing poles and running cables, and it looked fun,” she said. “And it came with a $4,000 bonus, so I was like, ‘I’ll take it.”

While at her first duty station, then-Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty), North Carolina, Gandy met her husband, who was also a Soldier. A few years later (April 2003), she deployed to Iraq. While deployed, Gandy was promoted to staff sergeant and being vetted for a position with the White House Communications Agency. Upon her return to the states, she took the position and moved to Washington D.C. in what ended up being a pivotal point in her career.

“Being there kind of opened my eyes up to even more of what we do; not just the Army, but what we do as a joint force,” Gandy said. “And that’s when I made the decision to stay in.”

Gandy would go on to serve in various positions around the world while maintaining a family and as her husband ended his military career. Currently about 90 days into her current role, Gandy said she was initially surprised to learn she is the first female to hold the position, adding that it doesn’t change the way she thinks or conducts business.

“I didn’t even know until I got here that I’m the first,” she said. “I think it adds just a little extra pressure knowing there are people who note that I’m the first female, but honestly, everyone has been awesome. From CCoE leadership, the Signal School, the Cyber School, they’ve been super supportive in helping the academy move forward."

Although perhaps more complex, Gandy likens her role as commandant of the academy to that of a school superintendent. Thousands of signal and cyber noncommissioned officers attend the academy for their respective Advanced Leaders Course and Senior Leaders Course each year, and Gandy oversees them. As a senior leader, she helps ensure fellow NCOs “move forward” and return to their formations as capable, top-notch leaders.

“I’m in charge of all the administration to make sure that we’re executing training, but I also provide oversight on the administrative support for the academy,” she explained.

Breaking Barriers

“Being the first woman” is far from the first thing that comes to mind when Gandy thinks about her current position. In fact, it’s a phrase that she said she hopes will dissipate over time as more women step into key roles, noting that there are dozens of women who have broken barriers by becoming the “first.”

“When I was a first sergeant, I had drill sergeants who were infantry and artillery that never had a female leader … and this was before the integration of women into combat arms,” she said. “The Army has come a long way, and the younger generation is going to have more opportunity to serve with female leaders.”

As someone who was often up against her male counterparts for promotions and sought-after positions, Gandy believes there is significant meaning behind more females filling roles.

“Now I understand the importance of having leaders who look like you so that you know there’s a possibility that you can achieve that rank, and I think we’re there now,” she explained. “We see those opportunities, and it’s becoming a norm for the younger generation of Soldiers … but it’s [my] generation that’s still uncomfortable with it.”

Future

Gandy plans to fulfill her three-year assignment as commandant, which would put her at the 29-year mark. She would like to stay in at least 30, but that will largely depend on the needs of the Army – and those who mean the most to her.

“When my family says we’re done, then I’ll be done,” Gandy said.

Looking back on her life, Gandy says the only regret she has with regards to the military is not buying better running shoes.

“Nobody tells you how much it’s going to hurt later if you don’t invest in your feet,” she said half-jokingly. “Spend your money on good running shoes and not stupid stuff.”

As for advice to anyone contemplating a career in the Army, Gandy realizes it isn’t for everyone, but it ended up being one of the best decisions she ever made for her and her family.

“It’s not just the pay and benefits; it’s the intangibles,” she said. “It’s being part of a team, it’s learning to grow as a person, becoming a leader, getting to see the world and how other cultures live … it’s everyone on the same playing field in the beginning, and knowing that where you go from there is really up to you.”

Bio Snapshot

Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Gandy was born in California, but as a military child, home was wherever the Navy sent her father. She earned a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics from Empire State University of New York.

Gandy’s military education includes the White House Console Controller Course, Basic Instructor Course, Drill Sergeant School, Battle Staff NCO Course, Security Cooperation Planners Course, the Sabalauski Air Assault School, and all levels of NCO professional military education.

She is a graduate of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy and the U.S. Army Forces Command Leadership Development Program at the Center for Creative Leadership. She and her husband have been married for 25 years. She has four children (ages 28, 24, 18, and 15) and one granddaughter.