Monday, July 23, 2012


Making a Difference

On this 4th of July, we once again celebrate our independence, our patriotism and the overabundance of blessings which have been bestowed upon us by those who have gone before us. Belinda "Brenda" Higdon Pinckney is not your archetypical general. Missing is the gruff exterior we see on television and the movies. She is not a fifty- plus- year- old white male soldier. There is no "gung ho" in her heart, except for the causes she believes so strongly in. When she dons her dress blue uniform, there is a heart of gold behind the mass of commendations, ribbons and stars. Though her shoulders are not broad, thousands and thousands of the family members of the soldiers of the Army know that when they need to lay their head on them, General Pinckney will be there to comfort them. Belinda Higdon Pinckney, one of only a few African-American female general officers in the United States Army, acknowledges the blessings she has. Her mission is to share those blessings and to make life better for those coming behind.

Belinda "Brenda" Higdon Pinckney was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1954. Her parents, Homer and Lucy Higdon, cared about their children and did their best to provide all they could for their six children, even if it meant working two jobs. Though they had little education themselves, the Higdons were determined that their children would receive the best education they could. Belinda attended kindergarten at Howard Chapel Methodist Church not too far from her home in Katie Dudley Village neighborhood of the Dublin Housing Authority. As she looks back to the days she spent in Katie Dudley, she fondly remembered that if she or any other of her siblings and playmates did something they weren't supposed to be doing, they would first get a whipping by a concerned neighbor and then return home for a second stern, but loving, whipping. She applauds those in her community who helped keep the kids "on the straight and narrow."

General Pinckney credits her success in the military to the foundations of her education she received in Dublin. She attended Washington Street Elementary School. "We were challenged to do our best," Pinckney said. "Mrs. Brinson was one of my favorite teachers. She was like a mother to many of us. We were put into groups, A,B,C and D. You didn't want to be in the D group," she continued. She was in the A group and remained in the same classes with a core group of classmates for nearly ten years. Among the teachers General Pinckney remembered the most were Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Crews, Bonnese Brower, Ernest Wade, Martha Myers and her principal, Charles W. Manning, Sr.

A member of the Finance Corps, the General credits Mrs. Myers for giving her the basic foundations of understanding, and actually loving math. It was that love of math that led her into the Finance Corps. Today, she is the only minority Finance Corps Officer in the history of the United States Army to be commissioned as a general officer. Brenda's life changed dramatically in the summer of 1970. In an effort to promote harmony between the races, Federal courts ordered that Dublin High School and Oconee High School be merged. Brenda and hundreds of her classmates and friends were ripped away from their beloved Oconee High School. It was the only school they had ever known. Bused or transported all the way across town, Brenda and the other students at Oconee had a difficult time in the transition. There were scared and naturally, just angry. As I look back on those days from the other side of the tracks, these students were the trailblazers of their day.

It was these students who entered a new world and made it easier for those who came from behind. It was one of the darkest days in the history of Dublin High School. An early morning pep rally was going on in the front of the school. Suddenly a rock, reported a chunk of concrete left lying by a forgetful contractor, appeared to come from where the black students were standing. It struck a white cheerleader and then as they say, "all Hell broke loose." All students in the school were sent home. The football game went on that night, but without the band. Many of the black students were put on buses and sent back home. As Belinda boarded the bus, a bee crawled under her bright yellow clothes and stung her, prompting her to say "even the insects are against us." When I talked to the General for the first time, I told her that I was there that dark day and that we have overcome most of those differences which so bitterly divided us thirty seven years ago. She smiled.

Brenda transferred to East Laurens High School where she graduated with honors in 1972. Belinda attended Clark College in Atlanta and studied medical technology. She failed to realize that in her senior year she would have to transfer to Emory University to complete her degree. Her tuition costs were going to double. She did transfer to the Medical College of Georgia, but when she was only twelve credit hours shy of a degree, circumstances led to her quitting college. "It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me," reasoned General Pinckney. Frustrated and disappointed at how she was forced out of school, Belinda promised herself that she would never quit anything ever again.

A career in the military was an early apparent option. Her oldest brother was an Army paratrooper and Vietnam veteran and her next brother, a Marine and also a Vietnam veteran. Her older sister joined the Navy. So Brenda, looking for something more out of life, enlisted as a private first class in the Army in 1976. Older than most other members of her rank, Private Higdon was quickly put into leadership positions. "The Army exposed me to reality early in my life and made me feel good," said Pinckney who believed she could make the army a career. It wasn't long before Private Higdon looked around at the non-commissioned officers and how they handled soldiers. She said to herself, " I can do that."

So she enlisted in Officer Candidate School in 1978 and graduated the following year. It was then, more than two decades ago, that she began her goal to look after soldiers, the regular men and women of the Army. The transition from an enlisted soldier to an officer was a daunting task. Pinckney relied on the lessons she learned in school to guide her through the difficult tasks ahead. She sought out role models to learn from, much like she had at Washington Street and Oconee High schools. The army placed her in a position to advance, but like her parents, the young officer wasn't looking for any handouts. Determined and highly independent, Pinckney took advantage of every opportunity to advance up the chain of command.

"Initially, it was hard for me to transition from being an enlisted soldier to an officer because, first of all, I only had two-plus years in the military as a PFC and specialist. Secondly, other than my training in OCS, no one had really sat me down and talked to me about 'officer ship.' The expectations are much greater. I was no longer only responsible for my actions, but for the welfare of my subordinates, too," Pinckney said. General Pinckney has demonstrated her ability to succeed at all levels. Early in her life, Bonnese Thomas McLain, one of her favorite teachers, noticed something special in Brenda. "Brenda and a small group of kids would meet me around 7:00 a.m. nearly every morning wanting to make the extra effort to learn more math," Mrs. McLain said.

After she entered the army, Belinda Pinckney continued to strive toward educational excellence. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at the University of Maryland, a Master of Public Administration degree in Financial Management at Golden State University, and a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

During her long and successful military career, General Pinckney has served as a Congressional Appropriations Officer, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller); Principal Deputy Director/Army Element Commander, Defense Finance and Accounting Service; Brigade Commander, 266th Finance Command and US Army Europe Staff Finance and Accounting Officer, Heidelberg, Germany; Battalion Commander, Training Support Battalion; Soldier Support Institute, Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Military Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller); Budget Analyst, Technology Management Office, Office of the Chief of Staff; and Company Commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 266th Finance Command.

In September 2004, Colonel Belinda Pinckney was nominated by the Army to become a general. She was the first woman in the history of the Army Finance Corps to be promoted to a general officer and the first ever person to be nominated from the comptroller field. Her first major assignment was as the Deputy Director, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which is the largest finance and accounting operation in the world, paying more than 5. 9 million people, processing 12.3 million invoices and disbursing more than four hundred and fifty thousand dollars in congressional appropriations.

General Pinckney's military awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Legion of Merit medals, six Meritorious Service Medals, four Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, the Office of the Secretary of Defense Staff Badge and the General Staff Identification Badge. As the general begins her thirty second year in the military, she is as committed as ever to set the bar for all military women to come.

In 2001, Pinckney was the first African-American woman to be inducted in the Officer Candidate School's Hall of Fame. She is one of only two African American generals and one of only a dozen or so female generals in the United States Army. "We need to continue to tell the stories, so that every generation will know and learn from these stories because we as a country are not particularly proud of some of this history,"she noted; "We do not want to repeat the bad history, and we want to tell the stories of the good history."

An advocate of women's rights, General Pinckney acknowledges the outstanding accomplishments of women in the military saying "Many contributions of women have gone unrecognized, the stories of their struggles and triumphs remain untold" General Pinckney recognizes the importance of their accomplishments but also realizes the tendency to take them for granted. She believes it is important to pass along the stories so that succeeding generations will know and grow from them.

As the first woman to head the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, General Pinckney has many sleepless nights. She sees no soon end to the war and worries constantly about the families of the soldiers serving in the Middle East and around the world. She often visits with wounded soldiers and their families in Washington's Walter Reed Hospital. The General seeks to make life easier for the families with the limited resources she has at her disposal.

Just thirty-six hours after she addressed a reunion of her fellow alumni of Oconee High School, General Pinckney boarded a plane bound for Houston, Texas and another funeral, another day of comforting the anguished with dignity and honor, all the time knowing that she is serving her nation proudly and setting an example for women and minority officers in the future. With a legacy of education, leadership and old-fashioned values she learned in the schools, churches and homes of Dublin and Laurens County, General Belinda "Brenda" Higdon Pinckney is bound for greater things to come in her Army career. It is with great honor that I, on behalf of all of the people of Laurens County and the United States of America, salute our very own hometown hero for a job well done as she seeks to better the lives of her soldiers and their families.

1 comment:

Dee Ma Johnson-Ajavon said...

As a US Veteran and an American, I love this story and everything that it stands for...