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Top ranking black female officer on 'living fearlessly'

by Brig. Gen. Marcia Anderson, Special to CNN
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CNN Red Chair: Brig. Gen. Marcia Anderson
  • Brig. Gen. Marcia Anderson is the highest-ranking African-American female in the Army Reserve
  • Anderson says going into the military was not part of her life plan
  • Her father also served in the Army in the 1950s
  • Anderson believes her success is about 'realizing your dreams'

Editor's Note: Brig. Gen. Marcia Anderson is the highest-ranking African-American female officer in the Army Reserve. The CNN Red Chair Interview weekly franchise strives to look at people's past to see what made them who they are today. We also want to know their biggest pivotal and "aha" moments in their lives.

(CNN) -- My decision to join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in college was not part of my life plan. I simply needed some science credits, and military science met the "science" requirement for liberal arts majors. It also looked a lot like gym class, which I was quite confident I could do without too much trouble. I am very glad that I was wrong about the whole thing!

ROTC is about presenting you with challenges and testing you -- physically, mentally and emotionally. I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, rappelled, solved problems and met some amazing people the 32 years I have served my country. I would not trade one minute of it!

Yes, along the way, I encountered people who made snap judgments about me because I was shorter than them, a woman or an African-American. They decided I did not measure up, but I chose to ignore them and believe in myself. My family is full of people who are intelligent, resourceful, strong and stubborn -- traits I inherited and I am certain are the reason I have been able to succeed in life and to overcome people who put obstacles in my path.

One of the most affirming moments in my life was the day I was promoted to brigadier general. The look of pride in my father's eyes is something I will never forget. If my mother had been alive, I know she would have had the same look.

My father served in the Army Air Corps in the 1950s when he was denied the opportunities I have enjoyed. Men and women like him -- my mother, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents -- suffered disappointments and indignities so that I could have choices and opportunities.

So, this is NOT about me. It is about realizing their dreams. It is about opening doors for others. It is about living fearlessly every day.

Next week in CNN's Red Chair: Cynthia Bailey of Bravo's "Real Housewives of Atlanta."