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'She led by example': Claflin honors general, other female veterans

Times & Democrat - 8/27/2022

Aug. 27—Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and Claflin University alumna Twanda "Tia" E. Young is no stranger to overcoming life's challenges.

The Darlington native saw first-hand what it was like to be a female African American leader in the U.S. Army.

"In what was termed a male-dominated environment, there were many days I had questioned my ability to lead," Young said Friday. "I questioned was my color or my gender a liability or was it my greatest strength."

Young said she came to realize her ethnicity and gender allowed her to offer compelling points of view to solve complex issues.

The 1989 Claflin graduate spoke Friday morning at her alma mater's James and Dorothy Z. Elmore Chapel.

She was there for the unveiling of a monument honoring her and other female Claflin veterans for their military service to the United States.

Young was the first woman commissioned from the Reserved Officers' Training Corps cross-enrollment program with South Carolina State's Bulldog Battalion to earn the rank of brigadier general.

She is a Class of 2018 inductee into the Claflin University Hall of Fame.

Young says her success was due to a praying mother and father, and a tremendously supportive family network.

"My mother always told me, 'Tia, you can't have a testimony without a test and in each test there is a lesson to be learned' and, boy, do I have a lot of testimonies to tell you,'" Young said.

"I challenge each of us during your next test — take it from another soldier — stop and ask yourself 'What am I to learn from this experience and build on it?'" she said.

In honor of the service of Young and other female military veterans from Claflin, the university unveiled a Veteran Women Monument on campus near the chapel. The Sunshine Lady Foundation Board Inc. sponsored the program.

The monument, designed by Florence-based Brown Memorials, sits adjacent to Claflin's Veterans Monument, which includes the names of military veterans who attended or were employees at Claflin University. The Veterans Monument was dedicated in 2017.

The Veteran Women Monument was the idea of Dr. Vermelle Johnson, former senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs at Claflin University. Johnson's late husband, Charles, was instrumental in developing in the already-existing veterans monument.

Young thanked Johnson for her vision.

"When empowered women empower women, great things happen," Young said.

The Veteran Women Monument is touted as the first of its kind at a Historically Black College and University in the country and one of only a few veterans monuments honoring women on a college campus in the nation.

"We are excited to be a thought leader in that space," Claflin University President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack said to applause.

Warmack provided a historic overview of minority women in the U.S. Army.

He noted the first black woman who enlisted in the U.S. Army was Cathay Williams in 1866, at a time when the U.S. Army did not accept women.

As a result, Williams posed as a man serving with the 38th U.S. Infantry and with the Buffalo Soldiers, Warmack said.

In 1948, women were fully integrated into the U.S. Army, but were not allowed in combat. Five decades later, women were allowed in combat, Warmack said.

"Those struggles were real," Warmack said. "Amongst the pioneers of this extraordinary move to prove that women had the courage, discipline, dedication to defend our country was Claflin's own retired Brigadier General Twanda E. Young. Young faced a number of challenges in achieving the coveted rank of brigadier general, but she persevered."

"In addition to the lessons she learned from her parents, Gen. Young was anointed with the Claflin confidence during her time on this campus," Warmack said.

He noted that Young is a part of the legacy that includes more than 40 women cadets who were commissioned through S.C. State's Bulldog Battalion.

"Today is about saluting the leal and loyal women veterans that served in our U.S. military to protect the freedom and rights that we cherish today," Warmack said.

South Carolina State University President Alexander Conyers, a retired colonel, said, "Brigadier General Young is just one of our 50 sterling examples of women who have become commissioned officers from this great university, Claflin.

"Collectively, they represent the perfect example as to why Claflin University thought it was most important to erect such a monument and why South Carolina State is a major part of this day."

S.C. State's ROTC program is known as a "stalwart beacon of leadership by example" and is bolstered by cadets from Claflin, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, Voorhees University and Denmark Technical College through its cross-enrollment program.

Over 20 general officers have been commissioned through the program, with Young being the first female.

"Today I am proud and excited of our Claflin Women's Veteran Monument not only as the president of South Carolina State University, but also as a proud Army officer retired after 30 years," Conyers said, noting he has served with women over the years. "I can say without reservation that serving is hard. Serving as an African American is harder. Serving as an African American female is the hardest."

Young's family and friends were in attendance, as well as military leaders from across the state.

She is hopeful that others will follow in her footsteps.

"It is an honor to have broken that door open for other cadets of the program to be able to see female-wise what they can do and what can be accomplished," Young said. "I hope that it is a testimony to not only females but males that if you put in the hard work and have the right focus and have a forge of people that are willing to support you and tell you when you are doing well and to kick you little bit when need be."

"I just don't want to be the last," she said. "I want there to be other females that come behind me and hopefully they say that General Young was a good general and she led by example."


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