Md. Guard gets its first female general

Shore native joined military belatedly, seeking `adventure'

April 20, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Carole Briscoe was 34 when, at the suggestion of friend, she enlisted in the Maryland National Guard. But the late start hasn't hurt her military career.

After compiling a record that has won the admiration of her superiors and fellow officers, the Eastern Shore native and former shock-trauma nurse was promoted yesterday to brigadier general in a State House ceremony. She becomes the first woman to achieve that rank in a military force that traces its origins to 1774.

Briscoe called her promotion "a milestone for her organization" and praised the Guard for its commitment to diversity. "The opportunity for other young women is definitely here," she said.

Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd, commander of the Maryland National Guard, said Briscoe, 56, has done a "superb job" as the force's director of personnel and administration, and as commander of a training regiment for officer candidates and noncommissioned officers. She becomes the third-ranking of three generals in the state's Army National Guard.

"She's broken our glass ceiling with a vengeance, and she's groomed other women as key leaders in the Maryland Guard," said Fretterd, who has been adjutant general since 1987.

Fretterd joined Gov. Parris N. Glendening in pinning the insignia of her rank on Briscoe's shoulders. Glendening called the promotion "well-deserved and "long-overdue."

Fretterd, who oversees the Army and Air National Guard units, said he was introduced to Briscoe in 1981 by Dr. R Adams Cowley, originator of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, which now bears his name.

Even before her promotion, Briscoe was a Guard member and a key member of Cowley's emergency medicine team. "I've followed her career closely and, while I'd like to take credit for it, it's been her all the way," Fretterd said.

Briscoe, born in Easton and raised in Denton, graduated from the University of Maryland School of Nursing in 1966 and joined the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The Fallston resident worked there for almost two decades as a nurse and emergency room coordinator until joining the Guard full time as a major in 1985.

"I did not leave Shock Trauma because I didn't like it. I left because I thought it would be a new adventure," she said.

Fretterd said Briscoe has met rigorous requirements to qualify for promotion to general, including study at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. She became one of the first two National Guard women in the nation to attend the prestigious school, from which she graduated in 1996 after nine months in residence.

For much of her career, Briscoe had to juggle the demands of military life with her role as the divorced mother of a son, now 29. She has been married to Robert J. Briscoe, a retired Guard command sergeant major, for 17 years.

Briscoe's specialty in her Guard career has been in personnel, essentially making sure that the right people are in the right place at the right time and with the right training.

"One of the things I remember about her is her ability to meld people into a team," said Col. Howard S. Freedlander, the Guard's executive officer.

Freedlander said Briscoe will become one of three generals serving under Fretterd in the Army National Guard. Another three serve in the state's Air National Guard.

After her promotion, Briscoe will be deputy assistant adjutant general while also holding a state position as director of finance and administration for the Maryland Military Department. Together, the two positions pay about $90,000.

Briscoe said it would be wrong to read anything negative into the fact that it has taken until this year for the Guard, which began admitting women to a wide range of roles in 1968, to name its first female general.

"We have had to work up to the same standards as our male counterparts and I think we have," she said. "The opportunity is here now, and hopefully I will be the one to set the way for others to follow."

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