She Made History As The First Black Woman To Lead Cadets At West Point Military Academy

According to the most recent data available, women currently make up only 15% of active US military members across all branches, a figure that has reportedly not changed since 2002. The Marines have the lowest number of women, only 7.6%. It was only a few years ago that all combat roles were finally opened up to women. In 2015 we saw the the news of the first women graduating from the grueling Army Rangers course, and more recently in 2017 the military welcomed the first female Infantry Marines.

While there is clearly a long way to go until we start seeing anything resembling gender parity in the US military, it’s clear there are barriers being broken. What will no doubt help encourage more women to join the ranks is by seeing more women in positions of leadership. Currently, about 16% of the officer corps and just 7% of top generals and admirals across the armed forces are women, according to a 2013 report.

But it is not just at the military level where female leadership is key. At the training level seeing women and minorities step into roles where they are not represented enough could also have a major effect on more women enlisting in the first place. One woman who is undoubtedly going to be a role model to others is 20 year-old Simone Askew who hails from Virginia and who has broken a major barrier for West Point Military Academy.

The international history major from Fairfax is the first black woman to assume duties as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets. That’s the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point, according to the Associated Press. She is responsible for the overall performance of the Corps of Cadets.

“It’s humbling, but also exciting as I step into this new opportunity to lead the corps to greatness with my teammates with me,” she told the press.

When it comes to the percentage of women at West Point, they currently make up 20% of cadets, who are usually commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army upon graduation. As AP reports, in 2014 West Point created a diversity division with the specific goal of recruiting women and African-Americans, especially in positions of leadership.

And it seems leadership was definitely in Simone’s blood, as The New York Times reports she was her school’s student body president in high school, was the captain of her volleyball team, started her school’s Black Student Union and spent her high school summers volunteering at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Leadership qualities were also instilled into her through her family.

“That leadership is something I’ve seen throughout her life — wanting to be first, wanting to be the best, wanting to win, in sports, in academics, in every aspect of her life. And to serve others, as well,” said Simone’s mother, Pam Askew.

“[Askew’s new position is] a great step for not only women, but African-American women, because it shows that no matter what your sex, or your race, you can really do anything. There’s nothing that can hold you back,” said Simone’s sister Nina Askew to NBC4.

Simone counts mentorship as a key aspect of helping her realize her potential and stay determined to achieve her goals.

“Throughout my cadet career I’ve just really focused on being poured into, seeking advice, seeking development, leadership mentors wherever I could,” she said.

Pam Locke was a prominent mentor of hers, another woman who is also familiar with breaking barriers. was one of two African-American women to graduate from West Point’s first class of women in 1980. She told AP that to date, the academy averages less than 20 African-American women graduating each year out of a class of 1,000 students.

“Out of that 20 we got a first captain. Isn’t that amazing?” she said of Simone’s achievement.

Pam also commented on the controversy from 2016 where a photo of 16 graduating black female cadets raising their fists drew criticism from online commentators who accused them of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. West Point assessed the situation and found the women did not violate any Army rules.

“What that photo said to me was how few black women are graduating,” she said.

These days Pam Locke is a West Point volunteer and says she will hold up Simone as a role model for other girls in various leadership workshops she holds at schools and inner cities around the US. As for Simone herself, she doesn’t take her moment in history lightly, and shared her own advice for young people wanting to excel in their careers.

“Allow yourself to be a vessel. Throughout my cadet career I’ve just really focused on being poured into, seeking advice, seeking development, leadership mentors wherever I could. Just truly be a vessel and be poured into,” she told AP.

“You’re selected for this role, that’s not the end of it. That’s just the starting line, and it’s more so, ‘Hey, what do you do with this role? What are you able to accomplish alongside your teammates?’ And I’m very, very fortunate to be around some awesome people,” she told The New York Times.





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