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Brig. Gen. Becky Halstead
Brig. Gen. Becky Halstead ()

The day Becky Halstead got her star, numerous upstate New Yorkers unaccustomed to foreign travel stood on German soil and listened to the band play for their local superstar.

“Half of my hometown flew to Germany for the ceremony,” Halstead said. “I had all my friends and family from throughout the years … This [achievement] wasn’t something I did by myself.”

In 2004, more than 20 years after graduating from West Point, she joined the very select group of women who have become general officers in the U.S. military. Halstead, commander of the 3rd Corps Support Command, is one of 14 female generals in the Army, one of nine brigadier generals and the only female general in Iraq.

She never really planned for her career to lead her to the upper ranks, and, she said, it’s been both rewarding and difficult. “It’s real exciting,” she said from her office on Camp Anaconda on Balad Air Base. “And then the weight of the world is on your shoulders.”

Halstead, 48, is a folksy, candid woman who loves God, her parents, her cat Buddy, other people’s children and the troops who work for her. She applied to West Point after her mother pointed out that as an excellent student and athlete, she was just what they were looking for.

Halstead prospered there, even though it was only the second year women were admitted — only about half of them graduated — and some men complained, “I knew West Point when men were men and giants roamed the plains.”

When the young Halstead was named “Plebe of the Regiment,” she looked at her certificate and it read, “he, he, him, his …”

“I was mortified,” she said.

She decided it was just an oversight. She chastised herself for having let her ego get out of check and feeling so proud. And she took it as a lesson on how to conduct herself.

“I won’t sign anything without reading it,” she said. “If I have a soldier that dies, I handwrite the letter.” So far in Iraq, Halstead has written 10 condolence letters to bereaved families.

Years ago, Halstead told her mother that the view of women in the military was “You’re either easy, or you’re gay or you’re harder than woodpecker lips,” she said. “Earlier, you worry about that.”

She no longer does. “I encourage all people to do this: Be yourself. Don’t cut your hair short, be more muscular, swear ... to try to fit in. I say, ‘Just be you.’”

She’s often referred to as “sir,” including nearly every time a briefing is called to attention.

“So 20 years down the road, they still aren’t calling the whole room to attention, and [they’re] calling them all men. Most days it never bothers me. Some days, it’ll hit a raw chord,” said Halstead.

“Do you think the average man would take 29 years of being called ma’am? They’d fix that fast.”

Halstead’s position requires her to decide how supplies of nearly everything needed by the U.S. Army in Iraq moves, when it moves and at how much risk.

Politics at the border, weather and violence all play a role. Before the elections, Halstead ordered that supplies be sent out and stockpiled so that if things on election day turned ugly, her trucks wouldn’t be on the road.

One of Halstead’s duties is to train Iraqi army units in logistics. “It consumes a lot of my time because it’s very frustrating,” she said.

Halstead was married briefly in her 20s to another Army officer. She thought she’d have children and leave the military but when that door closed, she stayed in — and “once I hit 10 years I went, ‘I really enjoy this,’” she said.

She attributes her success to discipline and a good attitude.

“Just go wherever you’re supposed to go,” she said. “And be willing to seize the opportunity, and do some of those things somebody else decided they weren’t going to do.”

Migrated
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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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