First Black Woman Promoted to Three-Star Army General
By Sheryl Estrada
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West is a trailblazer in the U.S. Army health care system.
West, the Army’s 44th (and first Black) surgeon general, will formally assume control of the U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) at Ft. Sam Houston’s MacArthur Parade Field at 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday. (Click here to watch a live webcast.)
Acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning administered the oath of office to West on Dec. 11. With the appointment, West, 54, became the first Black woman in the Army to receive a third star. A ceremony took place on Tuesdayto formalize her promotion. West is now the highest-ranking woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
The trailblazer also made history in 2013 as the first Black female two-star general in the Army Medical Department.
In her role as surgeon general, West provides advice and assistance to the Army secretary and chief of staff on all health care matters. Sheis responsible for development and overall management of an integrated Army-wide health system. Her responsibilitiesinclude formulating policy regulations on health service support and the establishment of health standards.
She oversees more than 48 medical treatment facilities providing care to almost 4 million active-duty members of all services, retirees and their family members. MEDCOM is composed of three regional health commands, the Medical Research and Materiel Commandand Army Medical Department Center and School.
Prior to her current appointment, West served as the Joint Staff Surgeon at the Pentagon. She also had previous assignments as commanding general of Europe Regional Medical Command; commander of Womack Army Medical Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and division surgeon, 1st Armored Division, Army Europe and Seventh Army, Germany.
The Washington, D.C., native completed high school at the Academy of the Holy Names in Silver Spring, Maryland. She earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a Doctorate of Medicine from George Washington University School of Medicine.
At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in 2013, Essence magazine and Southern Company honored West with the Armed Forces Medical Advocate Award. In her acceptance speech, sheshared that she was adopted.
“I was once an orphan with an uncertain future,” West said. “I am honored to be able to serve my country and its warriors.”
West was adopted as an infant. Her father was a career soldier, joining the Army when it was still segregated. She and her siblings followed in his military footsteps. Her mother was active in the civil rights movement.
She is married to Donald West, a retired army colonel. They have two children, Sydney and Logan. Last year, when Logan was a senior at Gonzaga College High School in D.C., West was the guest speaker atthe school’s Black History Month assembly.
“The story of African Americans is a story of resilience and perseverance that traces a people who refused to accept the circumstances under which they arrived on American shores,” West said. “And it chronicles the generation who fought for an America that truly reflects the ideals enshrined in our founding documents I would not be alive and be here today if I did not understand and appreciate and also benefit from the impact that these men and women have had throughout our history. ”
She also gave students leadership advice.
“In business and military, successful leaders have learned that diverse teams are more intelligent teams than ones that are composed of everyone that looks like,sounds like and thinks like themselves. Diverse teams bring different perspectives and experience that can lead to a broad range of ideas and solutions.”