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NEWS | June 21, 2022

National Guard Education Center Gets 1st Woman Leader

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy, National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – The first woman to head the National Guard Professional Education Center took command of the training institution in a ceremony June 16 at the PEC’s campus at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, Arkansas. 

Col. Catherine Cherry took over from Col. Leland Blanchard, who is moving on to head the Army Guard’s operations directorate at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia. In that position, he will oversee operations, training and resourcing for more than 335,000 Army Guard Soldiers worldwide.

While commander of the PEC, Blanchard was responsible for transforming it by modernizing the coursework, adding additional strategic level courses and streamlining personnel management.  

“I truly believe Leland Blanchard made a positive impact here,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, director of the Army Guard, who hosted the ceremony. “He’s one of those leaders, you just give him a little bit of guidance, and he will take it absolutely as far as he can.” 

Cherry comes from U.S. Army North, where she was the deputy director of the Training and Exercise Directorate and the ARNORTH senior Guard adviser.

“When I was presented the opportunity to select you to be our commander here at PEC, it took me less than a half a second to say yes to this,” said Jensen. “You are the right officer with absolutely the right skill set and experience to take this organization to the next step.” 

Cherry said she’s looking forward to the challenges of her new role. 

“I’m extremely excited to motivate people to meet their potential, which is what this organization does,” she said.

A Manhattan, Kansas, native, Cherry earned her commission as an aviation officer in 1997 through Officer Candidate School. She has served in a variety of leadership positions, including platoon leader, company commander, and brigade assistant operations officer. In 2006, she deployed to Balad, Iraq, with the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Texas Army National Guard. She later served as the chief of U.S. Transportation Command’s Joint Operational Airlift Center and chief of the command’s Current Operations Branch.

As a lieutenant with the Kansas Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment, she was first introduced to the PEC when she became the battalion’s personnel officer. 

“Well, they sent me here for two weeks to PEC, and that was my first time here and it was my start,” she said. “And as I reflect back, it was my beginning of having a passion for continuing education and sharing with others the passion for continuing higher learning at an institute of this kind of this caliber.”

The PEC, she said, is a “premier institution of education.” 

“Great organizations are led by competent, caring, committed leaders of character that encourage an environment of trust, discipline and mutual respect,” she said. “I felt that from the beginning here at PEC, and we will continue that.”

Cherry said she sees the PEC’s role as that of an enabler. 

“Here at PEC, we are the enablers,” she said. “We will continue to be the enablers to readiness.”

To ensure that readiness, six battalions were activated at the PEC, replacing the individual training centers that previously made up the organization.

“When I looked at PEC and I saw what our training centers were doing every single day, the impact that they were having on the readiness of the Army National Guard, the only thing that I didn’t see is that we were fully empowering the leaders of our training centers,” said Jensen. “The way you fully empower somebody that has the role and responsibility that we were giving to these men and women [in charge of the training centers] is by making them commanders.”

That also aligned the school into a formalized brigade structure, streamlining operations, said Jensen. 

The six new battalions include the Cyber and Information Advantage Battalion, the Personnel and Organizational Readiness Battalion, the Resource Management Training Battalion, the Sustainment, Installations and Environmental Battalion, the Strategy and Leader Development Institute and the Strength Maintenance Training Battalion.

Though the structure may have changed, the mission of the PEC remains the same, said Jensen. 

“Your mission hasn’t changed. Our high expectations of you haven’t changed,” he said. “We know that you will accomplish the mission as the people that were here before you have.”

Established in 1974, the PEC is the national training center for the Army National Guard, focusing on leadership and readiness. It teaches 370 courses annually to 10,000 students from the total force and hosts 92 conferences for 11,000 attendees each year.

Cherry said she’s excited to continue that legacy, build it and prepare the force for the future. 

“I felt that from the beginning here at PEC,” she said. “And we will continue that. For when you stop learning, you become irrelevant.”