Maj. Gen. Linda Lee Singh, Maryland’s first African-American and first woman Adjutant General, has impressive credentials: four college degrees; overseas deployment in Kosovo and a combat tour in Afghanistan; managing director at consulting giant Accenture; and a Bronze Star Medal, among numerous citations.
That’s a remarkable resume by any standards, perhaps even more so considering where she started – poor, homeless at one point, and a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of two people she’d trusted. These are topics she speaks of openly now so that she may inspire others to overcome those hurdles.
Singh grew up with extended family in a cramped four-room house that lacked indoor plumbing in Frederick County, Md. Her clothes were hand-me-downs from her grandmother’s employers and she never had much spending money. Yet, she recalls those first years as happy ones.
She moved to her parents’ home when she was nine years old and as a teen played varsity basketball and made the honor roll at Linganore High School. But her teenage years living with her parents proved to be so turbulent that she left home. A family member had sexually assaulted Singh after a party where the teen-age Singh had been drinking. When she told her parents about the assault, they argued. It was the second time someone she’d trusted had sexually assaulted Singh; the first assaulted her when she was five. Singh left her parents’ home, eventually dropped out of high school and found menial work at a pretzel stand.
Then one day Singh spotted a U.S. Army National Guard recruiting booth in the mall where she worked.
“What possessed me to walk over and redirect my life, I’m not sure. But on June 3, 1981, at 17, I joined the Army. I had to persuade my parents to sign the papers because I wasn’t yet 18,” she told Fortune Magazine. “It was the best thing they ever did for me. It turned my life around.”
The tough lessons she learned gave her the foundation that would lead Gov. Larry Hogan to appoint her in 2015 as the state’s top military officer. The two-star general shares her story hoping it might serve as an inspiration for other young people who may be facing hard times or who don’t think they have what it takes.
“I want to be a role model… I came from a place of poverty… I didn’t have running water in my house. I didn’t have an indoor bathroom,” she said in a Baltimore news interview in 2015. “Knowing what it’s like to grow up when you want more for yourself. I want to be able to be representative of the individuals that want that,” Singh said.
Singh serves as the 29th adjutant general of Maryland. The adjutant general is responsible for the daily operations of the Maryland Military Department, which includes the Maryland Army National Guard, Maryland Air National Guard, Maryland Emergency Management Agency, and Maryland Defense Force. She is a senior advisor to the governor and is responsible for the readiness, administration, and training of more than 6,700 members of the military department with an annual budget of more than $314 million. As the adjutant general, she serves as the official channel of communication between the governor and the National Guard Bureau and serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet, according to her biography in the Maryland Archives. Singh is a longtime Maryland resident, where she currently resides with her husband and two daughters. She received her commission in 1991 through Officer Candidate School at the Maryland Military Academy in Reisterstown, Maryland. Her military career spans more than 30 years of service in both the enlisted and officer ranks. She has served in staff and command assignments at every level, including deployed assignments in Kosovo and a combat tour in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Her previous military assignments include commander of the Maryland Army National Guard and director of the Joint Staff, Maryland National Guard. Her military decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Kosovo Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NATO Medal (two), the NCO Professional Development Ribbon, the Maryland Distinguished Service Cross and the Virginia National Guard Bronze Star Medal. Singh is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College where she received a master’s degree in Strategic Studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Columbia Union College, a master’s degree in business administration, military management from Touro International University, a master’s certificate in Six Sigma from Villanova University, is a graduate of the U.S. Northern Command Joint Task Force Commander’s course and is a fellow from the International Women’s Leadership program at Harvard University/INSEAD.