By Capt. David Gasperson
| 335th Signal Command (Theater) | July 9, 2020
U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Gina Great, Secretary of the General Staff for the 335th Signal Command (Theater) Commanding General, poses for a portrait at East Point, Georgia, May 28, 2020. Soldiers from the 335th Signal Command (Theater) headquarters took part in the U.S. Army's "Why I Serve" campaign to shed light on the various reasons people join the military. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Leron Richards) (Photo by Staff Sgt. Leron Richards)
A need for a summer job changed the trajectory of Gina Great's life.
Between semesters at Concordia University-Wisconsin, the Missouri-native needed a job to remain financially independent from her parents. It's unclear how she stumbled upon the Army Reserve, but an offer of a cash bonus, and opportunity to "manage the battlefront," got her into the recruiters' office.
She walked out — a generator mechanic.
"I didn't know what the inside of my car looked like," she laughed. "I panicked. I was almost finished with a college degree, and I thought I would talk to these people and get out of it, but that's not how the Army works."
The summer between her junior and senior years, Great left to attend basic combat training and Advanced Individual Training, graduating a Tactical Power Generation Specialist. Although initially unsure about the decision to join, she says the Army "breathed new confidence" in her.
"They taught me how to be a generator mechanic," she said. "They took a woman that had no idea what an engine looked like, who had no idea how to make a bed into someone who was qualifying with weapons and doing well in the Army."
When Great arrived at her first reserve unit, the culture at that unit wasn't quite what she was looking for, and she found part-time service didn't carry the same satisfaction as she hoped.
She finished up her final year at Concordia, graduated, and moved back to Missouri to attend a master's program at Lindenwood University.
She also set her eyes on a full-time commitment with the Army — as an officer.
"If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this full time," Great said. "I accepted an ROTC scholarship while I got my MBA. I was a cadet for two years. What was beautiful about it is I didn't have to be a mechanic, but I also got to be part of the Army still."
Once she graduated, Great commissioned as a Chemical Officer in the Active Army.
She left for her first duty station at Fort Drum, New York, where she deployed to Afghanistan as a division chemical and force management officer.
Great served a few years as a chemical officer and eventually moved into the public affairs career field. She served as the Public Affairs Officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and deployed to Afghanistan.
Along her Active Army journey, Great met her husband, Anthony, a prior-enlisted armor officer — finishing his career. When they got married and she took his last name Anthony joked with her, "You married into greatness."
But being a Great didn't come without challenges. "When we had Jacob, we were living in two separate places, and I decided to transition out because it was too much for us."
The strain of starting a family with two active-duty parents weighed on the Greats. She decided to get out and continue her service in the Army Reserve. Great's husband retired after 20 years.
Now a mom with two boys at home, Great has gained a new appreciation for the benefits of serving in the Army Reserve.
"I wish I had known about all the opportunities like ADOS, AGR, and just different positions available," she said. "You can choose where you live, still have a career, but you can also be part of the Army."
She credits a mentor, Maj. Shannon Bibbee, with helping her make a successful transition. Bibbee, a former 335th Signal Command (Theater) Soldier, also successfully jumped into the Army Reserve.
Bibbee helped Great understand the Army Reserve culture and land her current role as the Secretary of the General Staff (SGS) for the 335th Signal Command (Theater) Commanding General.
As the SGS, Great coordinates the command group's operations and is the primary adviser for administration and staff actions. She finds the work meaningful and helping Soldiers fulfills her desire to serve.
"I like this position because you're able to make an impact on people. You can help them, assist them. It's customer service, and you're the face of the unit too."
Great has served for over 12 years and gained an appreciation for the opportunities during her service.
She thinks serving in the military is an opportunity everyone should get.
"It makes you be about something other than yourself," she said. "It makes you learn how to work with people and deal with people and see different perspectives. Everyone comes from a different story. That's just how the world is. It gives you a bigger worldview versus just being about yourself all the time."