By David Miller
When Army Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham wrapped her talk with University of Alabama Army ROTC cadets, she encouraged them to get her business card and keep in touch with her.
Bingham, a UA alumna and assistant chief of staff for installation management at the Pentagon, supports directly both the secretary and chief of staff for the Army. Simply put, she’s busy.
But her gesture, delivered just a stone’s throw from the same Quad where she practiced with the drill team nearly 40 years ago, was genuine.
Bingham’s reverence for her former ROTC mentors and cadre, like the late Col. Paul Revere O’Mary, former professor of military science, and Lt. Col. Ora J. Williams, the first African-American to serve as assistant professor of military science at UA, fuel her many years of correspondence with UA cadets.
“UA cadets’ intellect, spirit and drive are always so heartwarming for me,” Bingham said, “and it lets me know our Army is in good hands. I’m always on a high when I come back.”
Bingham is the first African-American woman to reach the rank of three-star general from an Army ROTC program. She is currently one of three women to hold the rank of lieutenant general in the Army and is the first female officer to hold the position of quartermaster general.
Bingham’s recent visit to campus was particularly special for UA ROTC Battalion Commander Mary Ellen Sinnott, who, like Bingham, will work as a logistician in the Army. Sinnott admires Bingham’s ascension through the Army ranks and the many milestones she’s achieved.
Sinnott was unsure she’d have the chance to meet Bingham in person after missing the opportunity last year; Bingham, who has attended three commissioning ceremonies over the last eight years, couldn’t make last year’s ceremony. But she and Sinnott met and talked before meeting with the battalion.
“She’s super supportive of all the cadets coming out, but especially the logisticians, because she’s worked her entire career in that field,” Sinnott said.
“As a woman in the military, she’s achieved so many firsts .… it’s really cool to have an open dialogue and have her as a mentor.”
Bingham, a native of Troy, received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship from UA and enrolled in 1977. She later joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and served in the UA Student Government Association. Last month, she returned to campus to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her sorority class.
Visits to campus are nostalgic for Bingham, both in seeing how campus has grown and evolved, and in keeping up with UA’s Army ROTC program. She said cadets often seek advice about what to expect during their first assignments as second lieutenants. They’re equally as interested in the “shining” moments in her career, but Bingham places more emphasis on the “team and mission,” which have helped her achieve her individual career milestones.
“I just see myself from the humble beginnings of being a cadet in ROTC in high school for three years, and then winning a four-year ROTC scholarship,” Bingham said. “But what I really want people to take away from my life’s journey is to maintain a positive attitude, do the best job you can possibly do, and at the end of the day, know that you are really trying to make a positive difference for the men and women on your team.
“Working at the Pentagon is a humbling experience, but one I take very seriously, because, at the end of the day, we’re all supporting that man or woman on point all around the globe.”
Bingham’s presence, whether near or far, looms large for UA’s cadets. Sinnott said young cadets often connect with alumni of different programs during summer training events, where they learn from others who have varying backgrounds and levels of education and experience. But having prominent alumni from the UA program creates built-in connections and she hopes to “continue the example set by Bingham.”
“It’s an incredible source of pride for us,” Sinnott said. “[Bingham] is an incredible alumna, but also an incredibly involved alumna, and that makes it so much better.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.