RICHMOND, Va. –
Before she made history, commanded troops or wore a uniform, Maj. Gen. Michelle Rose was just another high school student trying to figure out how to pay for college. The lone girl in a family of six kids, she applied to ROTC programs, received a scholarship from the U.S. Army and started working toward an engineering degree at North Carolina State University. Since then, over a career spanning more than three decades, Rose has met her husband, raised three independent and trailblazing daughters, deployed in support of multiple overseas operations and, most recently, become the first woman from the Virginia National Guard to achieve the rank of major general.
“Throughout my career in the U.S. Army, I have to say that I’ve been in the right places at the right time,” Rose said, explaining she didn’t really have a mentor to guide her career path, but she did have the gall to pounce on new opportunities as they arose. “As schools and positions came open and I was available, I jumped in feet first not always knowing what I was getting into.”
Rose met her husband before she even earned her commission, during an ROTC training event. She was caked in mud, having just crawled her way through a “watery mud pit,” and couldn’t see anything. A senior cadet was yelling for her to keep going, to move to the next obstacle. She walked over to him and said, “I can’t see, sir, can I borrow your sleeve so I can wipe my eyes off?” He obliged, she explained, and that was the first time she met Barry Rose, her husband of 30 years.
After commissioning as a quartermaster officer, Rose was off to Saudi Arabia as a brand-new second lieutenant in support of Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Her father, struck by her service overseas, said at the time, “I have all these boys and it’s my only daughter that went off to this war!”
The Army kept Rose busy those first few years and with her husband also on active duty, the two spent much of the first few years of marriage apart.
“By the time we got to our 3rd anniversary, I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get stationed together,” she said, explaining that she was also eager to use the engineering degree she’d earned. “I really wanted to work in the field of industrial engineering and ergonomics.”
After finishing her initial commitment to the Army, Rose decided to leave the military. But, she said, she missed the Army almost right away.
“Nine months later, I picked up the Yellow Pages, looked up the nearest National Guard unit in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and made a phone call on a Friday afternoon,” she explained. The unit asked her to attend drill that weekend. She went, armed with a binder of her career highlights. “Being one of very few combat veterans at the time, my soon-to-be boss took one look at my binder and said I was hired.”
Thus began Rose’s career in the National Guard.
She started out in the then-329th Area Support Group and was eventually given her first opportunity at command when she was put in charge of the 1710th Transportation Company. This experience proved pivotal to her development as an officer and a leader.
“I took my company to a [National Training Center] rotation in California and my unit singlehandedly railed out every piece of equipment from Virginia to California, supported a brigade combat team, and brought all the equipment and Soldiers back to Virginia without any losses or accidents,” Rose said. “Bottom line, I love commanding troops, being in charge of my own destiny and helping those below me grow into a team and develop into their own leaders.”
After company command, Rose moved into staff positions and later, when she commanded the 529th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion during a deployment to Afghanistan, she became the first woman from the Virginia National Guard to command a battalion in a combat zone.
“Every day I knew we had accomplished some impossible feats,” Rose said of the 529th CSSB’s mission in Afghanistan. Not only did her Soldiers successfully complete a challenging and rigorous mission, they also volunteered for civil works projects, which Rose said helped ensure clean drinking water for the local populace, income sources for women of the village, and school supplies for both boys and girls. “This was truly a life-changing experience for a small National Guard unit out of Virginia, and we were all better for it.”
She credits much of the success of that mission, and the success she’s had throughout her career, to the noncommissioned officers who supported her along the way.
“I have learned much from them and if it wasn’t for their guidance, mentorship and leadership, I would never be where I am today,” said Rose. “Some of them literally saved my career when I was about to make a mistake and others gave me great advice. They are truly the backbone of the U.S. military and we as leaders are all the better for it.”
Additionally, Rose said the support she received from her family made her military adventures possible.
“They have put up with a lot,” Rose explained. “But, in the end, they have hung in there and always reminded me that I’m a spouse and a mom first.”
After her battalion command, Rose served in staff positions within the Virginia National Guard before taking on brigade command at the 329th Regional Support Group. From there, she worked at various positions in Virginia and at the National Guard Bureau before taking on the role of director of logistics and engineering at North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, a part of U.S. Northern Command, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
“As I moved up in the Army, it became tougher to find mentors,” Rose said, explaining that female mentors were especially hard to find, though she does credit retired Brig. Gen. Janice Igou, the Virginia National Guard’s first female general officer, with helping her enhance her career as a logistician. “I just kind of stumbled my way into the right jobs, schools and experiences.”
She recognizes the challenges women face when finding mentors who look like them and said it’s something she hears from many of her fellow female service members. Still, she says, anyone can be successful in the military.
“Just know your job well, treat people with empathy and respect, and go by the rules, even when no one is looking,” Rose said.
March is Women’s History Month and this month the Virginia National Guard is taking time to tell the stories of the women who serve as Soldiers, Airmen, VDF members and civilians in our organization.