JANESVILLE

Marcia Anderson never thought of herself as a role model until she became the first African-American woman to earn a second star as a U.S. Army general.

Now, the Rock County native wants to inspire others, especially young people, to become leaders.

“Being the ‘first’ brings a great responsibility to mentor others,” Anderson said, “because they will approach you and ask you how you did it.”

She will encourage students when she speaks at a free Black History Month event Monday, Feb. 26, at Blackhawk Technical College.

“I want people to be engaged,” Anderson said. “So many of those we celebrate (during Black History Month) stepped up and got engaged.”

She urges citizens to serve on boards, run for office or embrace leadership in other ways.

“If you are not at the table, you are on the menu,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to affect changes when you are on the outside looking in. If you are an insider, it is easier to be a champion for change.”

She invites students to cast away their fears about trying new things.

“Just because you decided to be a business major or a science major, if it is not your passion, you need to do what you will be passionate about,” Anderson said.

The military trailblazer found her pathway to success serendipitously.

She never planned to join the U.S. Army Reserve. But she needed a science credit while attending Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

When she learned the “military science” course would fulfill her science requirement, she signed up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

She soon found out ROTC was more than a substitute for gym class.

“It was one of those things that forced me to tap into skills I had not used before, like being in charge of people,” Anderson said. “But just because you have a title doesn’t mean someone is going to follow you. You need to inspire people and share your dream so they want to be part of what you are doing.”

After college, she was promoted through the ranks while pursuing a full-time civilian career in law.

Anderson earned a law degree from the Rutgers University School of Law in 1984 and a master’s in strategic studies from the Army War College in 2003.

In the military, Anderson took challenging assignments, made sure she performed well and fulfilled her professional education requirements.

“I was not thinking of becoming a general until someone pulled me aside and mentored me,” Anderson said. “He sensed something in me at the time I was not aware of.”

She was surprised when she was nominated and confirmed, first as a one-star brigadier general, then as a two-star major general.

Her subsequent assignment was as deputy chief, Army Reserve, in 2011 at the Pentagon.

Anderson believes women and minorities have “real opportunities in the service,” where there is no gender pay gap.

“In the military, men and women are paid the same based on rank and service,” she said. “You also get to stretch your boundaries and test yourself.”

Today, Anderson is retired from the military. But the citizen-soldier serves as the clerk of the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, in Madison.

“I got lucky with two things I really like doing,” she said. “I tell students they will spend more time at work than with their families. So find that thing you really care about and put your whole heart into it.

“That’s what happened to me.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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