A flyer for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which a college student found decades ago at Lander University, was the beginning of a career that has put Maria Gervais in the U.S. Army’s national and international spotlight.
Today, Gervais is a Lieutenant General serving as Deputy Commanding General and Chief of Staff, U.S. Training and Doctrine Command at the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
A Lander alumna, Gervais visited the campus recently for an update on the University’s ROTC program and also met with cadets. During a talk with students, she said she did not join ROTC when she first came to college. It was the flyer that sparked her interest in military service.
“I wish I had been smart,” she said. “I wish I had known more about the opportunities for scholarships that the military offers students.”
Instead, as the seventh of nine children in her family, Gervais financed her education herself, and said it took her 10 years to repay her student loans. However, the two master’s degrees that she has earned in her 35 years of military service were paid for by the U.S. Army.
Education is but one of the many opportunities a career in the military provides, Gervais said.
“You will find out that being in ROTC and serving in the military is one of the best leadership programs, not just in the Army, but anywhere in the world,” she said.
Those leadership opportunities were not lost on Gervais in her youth. She intended to stay in the Army for a three-year stint and use her biology degree to become a physical therapist. But the Army had other plans. She was given an assignment to become a chemical officer. When she discussed those plans with her father, who had served in the military for more than 25 years, she said she thought the Army had made a mistake.
But her father, knowing that the Army made its selection of jobs and posts based on ability, told her that “you serve at the pleasure of the United States.”
He advised her to “be the best version of yourself that you can be,” and “don’t get fired.”
She heeded the wisdom of her father – and the U.S. Army.
Often during her service, she has been the only female serving in a particular job. No matter the placement, “I just want to be a contributing member of that team.”
Gervais recognized Cadet Austin Johnson, of Clover, for his success during the recent Cadet Summer Training (CST) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, headquarters of the U.S. Army Cadet Command. Johnson, a senior majoring in criminology, was the University’s top graduate at CST and had the highest peer and platoon ranking of any cadet in the Highlander Battalion, which comprises ROTC programs at Lander, Presbyterian College and Newberry College.
His training was over a 35-day period at Fort Knox, during which time he and cadets from other parts of the country learned to work as a team, squad and platoon. “We did all sorts of training, from basic rifle marksmanship to land navigation.”
Johnson, who plans to earn his commission in the Army and serve in the military for his career, said, “Having Lieutenant General Gervais come and speak to us was an awesome opportunity for the other cadets and me. With the abundance of experience she has … we were able to learn so much from her.”
Gervais also was on hand for a surprise presentation to Cadet Gabriel Reyes, who received a check for $23,400 from the Army to fund two years of his education at Lander. Reyes, of Columbia, is a junior accounting major and has a 3.8 GPA. He recently attended the ROTC’s Basic Camp at Fort Knox.
“Lieutenant General Gervais is the Lander Cadet success story,” Reyes said. “She’s put in the hard work and dedication to get where she is today. She’s very inspirational.”
Having the military leader attend the check presentation “is like the icing on the cake,” said Reyes. “It served to make an already spectacular day with great news even better. It’s a story I’ll tell for a long time coming.”