In recognition of Women’s History Month 2018, and the 216th Birthday of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point this month, Veterans Advantage honors Lt. General Nadja West, the highest ranking female to have ever graduated from West Point.
West was adopted at age two by a military family in the Washington, DC, area, he youngest of 12 adopted children. Her family’s military service inspired her at an early age and set the stage for her extraordinary future achievements. Her father joined the Army in 1939 when the Army was segregated and served for 33 years. Her brother, also a West Pointer, encouraged her to join ROTC, which strengthened her application to West Point. She enrolled in the third class to accept women. In all, she and nine of her siblings went on the serve in the military!
There were challenges. Of the 126 women who started in her class, only 62 graduated. Today, she is the first black U.S. Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command, and the Army’s first black female lieutenant general.
“Do your best, comport yourself in a dignified manner. And really work hard, because you’ve got people watching you. People are going to look at you, and your mistake is going to reflect on a lot of people. Your success is going to reflect on more people,” West says about the best advice her father gave her, in an interview with the Army Times.
She also credits the show “Star Trek” for inspiring her to take a bold move into the sciences, not a popular field for women at the time. “You had Lt. Uhura there, an African-American female that was on the bridge and an officer. But I really wanted to be Mr. Spock, the science officer,” she reflects on her memories as a five-year-old watching the show.
While West's adoptive mother was the granddaughter of slaves, and grew up in a segregated society in the early 1900s, her daughter is a strong believer in the power of diversity and importance of working together as a team.
“Study after study has shown that diverse teams are more intelligent teams. A diverse group provides different perspectives and would give you a wider range of solutions. But we really do have probably have one of the greatest teams of professionals on the face of the earth in what they do for our nation,” she says in a Department of Defense video.
In everything she does, West stays grounded in her military role, while representing the storied legacy of West Point.
"I'm actually part of the long gray line that includes people like Grant and Eisenhower and MacArthur, Patton, and all those names that I used to read about," she told CNN.
Education & Decorations
LTG West is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering. She attended the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, where she earned a Doctorate of Medicine Degree.
West's awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the NATO Medal, various campaign medals, the Combat Medical Badge, the Flight Surgeon Badge, the Army Parachutist Badge, the Army Air Assault Badge, and the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge in Gold. She is a member of the Order of Military Medical Merit and the Order of Saint Christopher and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Family Practice.