By Sean Kimmons
Army News Service
As a senior in college, Mari K. Eder once filed a Freedom of Information Act request to view her academic files.
Once it was approved, she sat in a conference room as she combed through the files, which showed her grades, her dean’s list awards, and then a letter from her high school guidance counselor.
The letter shocked Eder, who would later go on to a successful Army career. She would become the first to lead the Army Reserve’s Joint and Special Troops Support Command, and the first full-time deputy chief of the Army Reserve and the first full-time deputy chief of Army Public Affairs.
“It said, ‘I do not recommend Mari K. to attend any college. She is not intelligent enough to complete it.’ And I sat there stunned, because I realized that my whole life had almost ended before it even began,” said Eder, now a retired major general.
Later, her college wrote a letter to the guidance counselor, who Eder was also able to confront.
“But that lesson stayed with me -- 1,000 people can say ‘no’ to you, but all it takes is one who says ‘yes.’ And Edinboro University of Pennsylvania said ‘yes’ to me,” she said.
Eder and five other pioneering female Army leaders, in addition to the 4,000 women of the Office of Strategic Services, were inducted into the Army Women’s Foundation’s hall of fame during a virtual ceremony Monday. Members of the OSS served in World War II as spies, saboteurs, analysts and experts in communications, among other skill sets.
After college, the Army provided Eder with her second break to succeed in life, she said.
“What the Army has given me, I believe, is more than I have given back,” she said. “I have had tremendous opportunities to travel, to command and to give that same opportunity to others.
“The only thing that I have ever wanted to do was to leave a legacy of people who are able to go on, who have been given an opportunity to excel, to succeed and to make a difference in the lives of everyone they meet.”
Marcia M. Anderson, the Army's first Black female Reserve officer to obtain the rank of major general, also spent her career trying to help others achieve their potential.
“It’s not about who you are. It’s about what you can do for the people and the institution you serve,” said Anderson, who is now retired. “And that’s all I ever tried to do in my entire career, was to honor my oath, to take care of my Soldiers, and to make sure that I was mission focused.
“I hope my example and the examples of previous recipients will continue to encourage, motivate and empower our young women to continue to strive to be the best they can be.”
Former Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh thanked the Army recruiter who took the time to speak with her in 1981, even though she was a high school dropout at the time. His persistence to recruit her helped “a young girl who seemed to be lost, homeless and needing someone to guide her,” said Singh, who retired in 2019 after being the Maryland Guard’s first African-American and first woman adjutant general.
“He gave me the opportunity to serve 38 years in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve,” she added. “How does that happen when you come in as a private E-1 and you retire as a major general, leading the organization that took you off the streets?”
She said much of her strength to push through adversity came from her grandmother, who raised her for the first nine years of her life.
“She just did an amazing job. And she never ever told me that being a girl you couldn’t do anything. She always said to me being a girl you can do anything that you want -- just don’t take your shirt off like the boys,” Singh said, laughing. “So that gave me a really good start.”
The other hall of fame inductees included:
· Retired Col. Christine “Nickey” Knighton, the first woman to command a tactical combat arms battalion in 1996. She was also the second African-American woman pilot in the armed forces.
· Retired Lt. Col. Francoise B. Bonnell, who is the Army’s recognized authority in women’s military history and former director of the U.S. Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia.
· Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Gretchen Evans, who is a combat veteran, mentor, coach, and community activist. Prior to her combat injury and subsequent retirement from the Army, she was responsible for more than 30,000 ground troops in Afghanistan.