Major General Sheryl E. Gordon is the first female to become adjutant general of the Alabama National Guard, having been named to the position in 2017. She advises the governor on military affairs and commands the Alabama Army and Air National Guard and its more than 12,000 citizen soldiers and airmen. Gordon, who holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College, Auburn University Montgomery and the Army War College, was commissioned in 1981 through the Alabama Military Academy. She became the Alabama National Guard’s first female general officer in 2009. She previously served as Assistant Adjutant General and Commander of 62nd Troop Command in Montgomery, and has been awarded numerous medals and badges. Gordon was kind enough to answer a few questions for Alabama Living. – Lenore Vickrey
Tell us about your growing-up years, where you went to school, and a little about your family.
I was born and raised in Selma and graduated from Selma High School. I come from a family deeply rooted in the military and later married into a family with deep military roots. My father and brother were both officers in the Alabama National Guard — my father, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard and my brother, a brigadier general in the Army National Guard. So, of course, I had to become an officer too. My husband is a retired lieutenant colonel.
How did your years as a high school chemistry teacher and vice principal prepare you for your career in the Guard?
The most rewarding part of my journey has been witnessing the military, civilian, and personal successes of young soldiers and airmen. It is very similar to my experiences as a high school teacher and administrator. You are always pleased to see that your students have become confident and productive members of society. I view my job now, just as I did in education, to provide the soldiers and airmen the proper training and opportunities for them to excel in their lives.
I believe it is important that everyone have a mentor and be a mentor. I had several mentors guiding me along the way. As a current Guardsman, retired high school teacher and administrator, I’ve always considered myself a mentor for our younger generation.
What is a typical day like for you?
I start early. This is the best time to exercise, catch up on reading, and plan the day. Many of my days consist of meetings and calls. The best days are when I visit our Guardsmen training in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia or overseas performing a mission.
In an interview in 2017, you said the biggest challenge for the Alabama National Guard was readiness. Is that still the case?
Readiness is central to the Alabama National Guard vision, mission, and priorities. This means people first. I said it in 2017 and it is true today, if you don’t have the personnel, your training plan can be great, but if you don’t have anyone to train, it doesn’t make a difference.
Because readiness is about our people, it is important to care for the things that matter most to them. For example, we remain committed to taking care of our soldiers, airmen, families, and civilian employees. We do this by listening to their needs and when possible, providing new opportunities and benefits. When soldiers and airmen know the family is taken care of, we can focus on living the Army and Air values, training for state and federal missions, and strengthening our alliances and partnerships to sustain long-term success in wartime and peace.
What’s the most important thing about the Guard that you want the people of Alabama to know?
I want the community to understand that the guard is there to support them on a state and national level. Guardsmen volunteer their services; yes, they get paid, but first they must be willing to raise their right hand and take an oath to preserve and protect. When Covid-19 hit, soldiers and airmen worked together in rural communities giving vaccines to those in need. Guardsmen assisted in nursing homes, at the same time they responded to Hurricane Ida and held a presence against civil unrest. The most important thing for the people of Alabama to know about the Guard is we are always ready and always there.
How do you decompress after a week at work? What are your hobbies?
I enjoy decompressing at the lake, Orange Beach, most anywhere there is sun and water. Although I don’t get to do it as often as I would like, quail and deer hunting are hobbies I learned while growing up in Selma. I also enjoy reading, cooking and flower gardening.