SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Okinawa armory floor was crowded with uniformed personnel and people. Excited conversations echoed between the walls as all waited in anticipation for the ceremony to begin.
A row of five flags dominated center stage: the U.S flag, the California state flag, U.S. Army flag, a two-star general flag, and one standard still encased. This flag would be unfurled after the promotion order of U.S. Army Col. Marlena A. DeCelle was officially published and the one-star rank of brigadier general adorned her uniform.
“I grew up in a close-knit family with a long tradition of military service,” said DeCelle. “I am the 5th generation to serve in the U.S. Army, dating back to the Spanish-American War.”
DeCelle has many family members who have served in every conflict in U.S. history up to this day. They have served in every enlisted and officer rank up to her rank as brigadier general. Her father is a U.S. Navy veteran, two brothers are officers in the U.S. Army, and several uncles, aunts and cousins have served or are serving.
“I am proud to continue this legacy,” DeCelle said.
With such a rich family history of military service, her motivation to serve was never a question.
“If there is a will, there is a way. I stayed focused on my goals and tried to make decisions that would make my family proud,” said DeCelle. She commissioned from the University of California-Davis from the Reserve Officer Training Corps and entered active duty.
Before joining the California National Guard, she served in leadership positions of increased responsibility at the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and with the 13th Corps Support Command in Fort Hood, Texas.
DeCelle separated from Active-Duty Army in 2005 and believed that was the end of her service. She joined the civilian workforce and prospered in the financial industry.
“It wasn’t bad … but something was missing … the brotherhood, the sisterhood and the camaraderie that is shared when we put on this uniform,” she said. “We are not here to collect a paycheck. It is something bigger. We are here to serve.”
As a dual-active Army military couple, they endured many hardships, including finding reliable childcare, especially whenever they changed permanent duty stations.
From her entry as an officer candidate in the ROTC unit until now, DeCelle has witnessed the evolution of parental leave policies and resilience in the ranks.
“I had four children under the old policy and found myself re-evaluating my service each time I had to return to work when I was still bonding with my newborn at only 6 weeks old,” she said. “I have seen so many talented women leave service because of the former six-week maternity and 10-day paternity policy.”
The recent policy change for the Army grants 12 weeks of parental leave following convalescent leave. Non-birth parents get 12 weeks of leave following the child’s birth. Adoptive parents and eligible foster parents also receive 12 weeks of parental leave.
“This is a win-win for all and really places families first,” said DeCelle.
Placing families and people first is a pinnacle component to DeCelle’s leadership style of mission command. Six principles guide this philosophy:
- Build cohesive teams through mutual trust;
- Create shared understanding;
- Provide a clear commander’s intent;
- Exercise disciplined initiative;
- Use mission orders;
- Accept prudent risk.
“I have developed this throughout my career by putting people first and recognizing talent,” she said.
Her dedication to this attitude was evident in the crowd that showed up for her promotion ceremony.
“Attention to orders,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Krog, DeCelle’s brother and the master of ceremonies for the event. “The president of the United States, upon recommendation of the secretary of the Army, has reposed special trust and confidence in the patriotism, fidelity, and abilities of Col. Marlena A. DeCelle, in view of these qualities and her demonstrated potential for increased responsibility, she is therefore promoted to brigadier general.”
The crowd broke out in applause as Maj. Gen. Matthew P. Beevers, the acting adjutant general of the California National Guard, placed a one-star rank on DeCelle’s uniform.
“Wow! I want to thank every single one of you for taking the time from your busy schedules to show your support,” she said. “No matter the rank or how long we’ve known each other, whether you’re military or a civilian, friend or family, I am truly humbled as I look around this room.”
DeCelle thanked many who have been a part of her military journey. From Beevers and California National Guard units to her husband, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ken DeCelle, and numerous family members in the audience.
“I never imagined I would be standing here as a general officer,” said DeCelle. “I am truly humbled, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to go through this journey with so many amazing people.”