NORFOLK, Va. -- For Sgt. 1st Class Gertha L. Cleveland, a recruiter with the Virginia Army National Guard, a point of personal pride is her service in all three components of the U.S. Army. Over the course of her military career, she’s served on active duty and in both the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
Cleveland first served in the USAR before entering active duty. She then took a break from her military career. Just over a year later, a National Guard recruiter contacted her and, realizing she missed her military family, she was quickly convinced the National Guard was right for her. Two weeks after her initial conversation with the recruiter, she enlisted in the National Guard.
Now, after 14 years, Cleveland is an advocate for the National Guard.
“If I had heard about the National Guard first, I would have gotten it right the first time,” she said. “It was like a whole new world for me.”
Cleveland currently recruits in the Norfolk, Virginia area, and at Norfolk State University’s ROTC department. She explained that her job entails educating and preparing individuals for military service and she feels passionate about recruiting because she truly believes in what the Virginia Army National Guard has to offer. According to Cleveland, just the benefits can set a young person up for a lifetime of success.
“Hands down the National Guard offers the best benefits,” she said. “When I see young individuals who are like myself, first-generation college students whose parents can’t afford to send them to college, I let them know the National Guard gives them that option.”
“Everything is covered to graduate with a four-year degree,” she said. “You don’t have any student loan debt.”
Cleveland, the youngest of 11, is the first in her family to get a master’s degree, and her service in the National Guard is what made that possible.
“I love the Virginia Army National Guard because of all the great benefits that it has to offer,” she said. “It put me in a position to become the first individual in my family to graduate with a master’s degree. What’s not to love about that?”
In her office, Cleveland proudly displays her master’s degree from Liberty University, along with military awards and other items acquired over the course of her career. She also has a Historically Black College and University 2021 Black Goals calendar that recognizes, educates and celebrates the contributions that African American women have made.
In discussing the calendar, Cleveland says Maya Angelou, featured in November, is one of her all-time favorite figures. She said she first fell in love with Angelou when she was in the fifth grade and read “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings.”
“This is my first HBCU calendar,” she said. “It’s given me a sense of pride because so often African Americans are not recognized for their accomplishments.”
Cleveland said the stories about Black people being told today weren’t things she learned in school, and that it’s great to see more people recognizing the historic contributions of African Americans.
“Black History Month is important because the world needs to see the contributions that Black individuals have made in the United States; not just to their communities, but to the world as a whole,” she said.