ARLINGTON, Va. - The top officer of the Maryland Army National Guard was recently honored in Washington, D.C, at an awards conference to honor minority leaders throughout the military.
Army Brig. Gen. Linda L. Singh, the assistant adjutant general-Army with the Maryland National Guard, received the National Guard Stars and Stripes Award during the 28th annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards Global Competitiveness Conference, Feb. 7.
Singh was appointed to her current position in June, becoming the first female commander of the Maryland Army Guard as well as its first minority female commander.
The leadership of their respective service branch nominated awardees honored at the event. But for Singh, the award recognition represented something larger.
"Being able to accept this on behalf of all of my troops out there and being able to continue to watch them grow in their careers, I think that's probably the most important thing to me," she said.
Helping to provide guidance to others is something that Singh said is important to her and prior to the award ceremony she joined with other senior leaders from throughout the military in a mentorship session for high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.
"That's our next generation of leaders," Singh said. "The big thing is we know that if we don't invest the time in our young and we leave them to their own devices without the mentoring and the guidance, then we're not going to have a strong set of leaders."
For Singh, it also gave an opportunity to show the students that she and the other generals and admirals in attendance were once in their shoes.
"They look at us like we're some sort of super-human," said Singh, adding that she related stories from her high school days as a way to connect with the students and to emphasize that "we're just as ordinary as they are."
Singh said that was used as a way to bridge to talking about the importance of setting goals and working to achieve them.
"You need to have a plan, Singh said. "It can't be a one-path plan. You really need to think about charting out what it is you want to do. Then, set your goals, set the requirements and start going after it."
And, as part of the session Singh said she spoke to the importance of focusing on science, technology, engineering and math and how the students can apply those skills in college, in a civilian career or in the military.
Singh shined at math during high school and her math teacher served as an early mentor for her.
"When I would need to have quiet time and a place to go right after school I would go to the math room," she said. "It really gave me the time to interact with some of the adults and they gave me a lot of guidance and those are some of the ones I think about quite a bit."
But, Singh said setting goals and working to achieve them is paramount to larger success.
"It may take you some time to achieve what you want, but if you persevere and you continue to push you will ultimately get to where you want to go," she said.
That idea of perseverance and continuing to push forward was also something re-iterated by Air Force Maj. Gen. Gary Dean, special assistant to the chief, National Guard Bureau, who also took part in the mentorship session.
"You have to have a plan and you have to have a purpose," Dean said. "If you have those two connected and you regularly think about your purpose, you can overcome any obstacle."
But, Dean said he stressed to the students he talked with that building a support network is also key.
"Sometimes during the peaks you need those friends to keep you grounded and during the valleys they'll help bring you up," he said.
But, above all, Dean told the students to always strive for excellence.
"Excellence has no color and it has no boundaries, and that was something that really stuck with me," he said. "If you operate in excellence, people cannot argue with excellence and that always stands out."