RICHMOND, Va. — First Sgt. Ebony Bridges, assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, said reaching her current rank is something she’s incredibly proud of. As a Black woman, the road to her current position hasn’t always been easy, and there was a point when she thought she’d never be promoted past sergeant first class. But, she stayed the course and kept giving her best to the organization.
“I am happy to be able to show other Black females and females in general that in this male-dominated environment, we still have a chance to make it to the top without compromising ourselves in the process,” Bridges said.
She first joined the active duty Army in 2001 as a finance specialist. She had a son, and wanted an opportunity to provide a better life for him. At the time, she didn’t realize there were opportunities to serve full-time in the National Guard. A fellow Soldier told her about it, that serving as an Active Guard Reserve, or AGR, Soldier, was similar to active duty service, just without regular long-distance moves.
“This was very important to me as I had spent enough time away from my son and I was ready to settle down and have more children,” Bridges said. She left active duty, then waited until after the birth of her last child before joining the Virginia Army National Guard. “Doing so gave me the opportunity to continue to serve my country, complete my education and retire from the military as I had always planned.”
Once in the National Guard, she jumped right into recruiting. Helping young people find opportunity in military service was incredibly rewarding.
“It felt great to help those who didn’t know which way to turn when they couldn’t pay for college or their lives were going down the wrong road,” Bridges said.
After her stint helping grow the force in recruiting, Bridges moved over to the Recruit Sustainment Program, which prepares National Guard Soldiers for basic and advanced training. In that role, she worked to encourage new Soldiers to maintain their commitments to the National Guard and, once they returned from training, she was able to mentor them as they started out in their military careers. Next, she served as the state’s retention noncommissioned officer in charge.
“I was able to see the very Soldiers I enlisted on day one raise their hands again and commit another two, three, four years to serving our country,” Bridges said. “It was very rewarding to see the life cycle of Soldiers you met as civilians and see them now passing on that purpose, motivation and direction to others and know you played a part in that.”
Personally, Bridges says one of the hardest parts of her military service has been juggling the responsibilities of being a mother and a Soldier. She says it’s easier and more acceptable for dads to miss games, dinner, recitals or bedtimes, but doing so herself instantly generated “mom guilt.”
“As a mom, I felt obligated to make it all work,” she said, explaining how she’d rush from her duty location to make it to family events. “I felt as though I were a modern day superwoman!”
In addition to striving to find a balance between her family life and work life, as a woman in uniform, she says she’s had to “run faster, push harder, work longer, make no mistakes,” to get the same recognition of her male counterparts.
Over the course of her career, she says she’s dealt with sexual harassment and silly comments from her male peers, but she refused to allow that to be a barrier to her success.
“I had to speak louder just to be heard,” she said. “I had to have a thick skin and learn to stand my ground even when it wasn’t the popular decision.”
In the wake of the perseverance, she also realizes she’s following in the footsteps of the women who came before her, while also blazing a trail for those who will come after.
“What keeps me resilient is knowing that the footprints that I am walking in were already there, but in order for the next female to find the path I was able to find, I have to keep those footprints fresh,” Bridges explained.
Now, in her new leadership role within the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, Bridges said the number one lesson she’s learned in her career, as cliche as it might sound, is that there’s no “I” in “team.”
“I’ve learned that coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, but working together is success,” she 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.