AWF Profile Maj. Gen. Patricia Hickerson, USA, Ret.
Hall of Fame Inductee 2018
Maj. Gen. Patricia Hickerson is an extraordinary officer and leader who led paths for the Army in numerous ways.
She was one of the first two women to attend the Infantry Officers Advance Course at Fort Benning, Ga., completing the course in 1973. Two years later, she became the first woman officer on the staff at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when she was assigned as Admissions Officer. In that role, she was instrumental in the admission of the first two classes of women to join the Long Gray Line.
Her historic assignments weren’t yet over. In 1984, she became the first woman to command a VII Corps’ battalion. And at that point was only midway through her nearly 33-year Army career.
On the day she retired in 2001, she was the senior woman officer in the Army and only the third woman in the Army to receive her second star.
“The entire 33 years was an incredible journey,” she said.
In March 2018, Hickerson was inducted in the Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame. She joins previous Hall of Fame inductees, including the first gender-integrated U.S. Military Academy at West Point Class of 1980; a mentor, Brig. Gen. Evelyn “Pat” Foote, USA, Ret., and the 14 th Army Band (Women’s Army Corps), which Hickerson commanded as a Captain.
“It was a real surprise. I was very honored,” Hickerson said. “To be recognized in the same category as them, that’s very special.”
Hickerson has an unlikely resume for a woman who was a classically trained flutist and school teacher prior to joining the U.S. Army.
Armed with a Master of Music degree in Flute Performance, Hickerson taught school for three years before she learned of an opportunity for a direct commission in the Army. She entered the Women’s Army Corps in 1968 as a 1 st Lieutenant, planning to stay about five years and then transition to the civilian sector.
But Hickerson revamped her short-term plan less than two years after her commission. Enlightened with the opportunities afforded women in the military, which exceeded opportunities for women in the civilian world, Hickerson’s five-year plan turned into a career that propelled her to the top.
“I was impressed with what women were doing in the military,” Hickerson said. “The highest civilian woman I had seen was a junior high school principal.”
Although greater than those in the civilian world, opportunities available to women in the Army weren’t unlimited, however.
When Hickerson joined in 1968 there were no women general officers. The first wasn’t promoted for another two years. More doors began to open to women over the next decade, driven primarily by the disestablishment of the draft in 1972 in favor of an all-volunteer force. But this was uncharted territory.
“You didn’t know what to aspire to,” Hickerson said. “You had to accept challenges expect the unknown.”
When the draft ended, and the Army began to expand roles for women, the WAC Advance Course that Hickerson was preparing to attend was canceled. To prepare her for greater leadership opportunity, an infantry officer where she was stationed encouraged her to apply to something that had been open only to men: Infantry Officers Advance Course. She and another WAC captain were “begrudgingly accepted” to attend the Infantry Officers Advance Course, Hickerson said, and proved that women could pass.
“That was a pivotal point, but I didn’t realize it at the time,” she said.
The course was challenging, and she compares it to doing algebra II without having studied algebra I.
“It was hard, but it was also the real Army to me, and that’s why I wanted to go.”
Hickerson treasured the Army’s sense of purpose and being surrounded by its culture of values, ethics, goals, high standards and expectations.
“It was always real. You always felt like you were doing something that was important—of value.”
Hickerson loved every assignment, she said. But among her favorites were Commander of the 14 th Army Band (WAC), 1970-1972 at Fort McClellan which was the only all women’s band in the entire US Military; and Admissions Officer at West Point, from 1975 to 1977, where she felt she was entrusted with a lot of responsibility and the freedom to do an important job.
In October 1975, during what would usually be West Point’s early admission review period, President Gerald R. Ford signed the law allowing women to enter the U.S. military service academies beginning in summer 1976. Although the South West Admissions Officer, Hickerson was assigned special projects pertaining to the admission of the first class of women. She helped develop a pamphlet about Women at West Point, conduct a College Board search targeting women high school students and plan weekend visits for invited women candidates. Finally, she presented every woman’s file to the Admissions Committee. The files showed that women wanted to attend West Point for the same reasons as men.
Another favorite assignment soon followed. Hickerson and her husband both served in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division, under then-Maj. Gen. Robert Kingston. Women were new to the division and under Gen Kingston’s command, were expected to participate in road marches and physical training just like male soldiers, an expectation that was very welcome. Hickerson said this is where she learned to run. It not only became enjoyable, it helped prepare her for her groundbreaking assignment in 1984 as the first female VII Corps’ Battalion Commander, where running in formation helped earn acceptance and respect.
“When you can keep up in the formation, it means ‘You’re okay, you’re a soldier. You can hang,’ ” Hickerson said.
Hickerson continued to move through the ranks. In 1991, then Brig. Gen. Hickerson became just the second woman assigned as Adjutant General of the Army, an assignment she held until 1994. In that role, she was instrumental in creating the Army Casualty Information Processing System, which became the basis for the Defense Casualty Information Processing System. She also played a key role in the development and fielding of key Army enterprise personnel systems, allowing the move from paper to electronic personnel jackets; also, as the Executive Director of the Military Postal Services Agency, after Desert Storm, realigned all the APO/FPO numbers throughout all the Department of Defense.
Hickerson was just the third active duty woman in the Army promoted to Major General. She retired in 2001. Her last assignment was Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel and Installation Management (DCSPIM), for the U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army, Heidelberg, Germany.
While Hickerson and her peers thought their time in the Army was challenging, she said it was not nearly as difficult as the speed and complexity today’s soldiers face.
“We thought we were busy, we thought it was hard, we thought the operations tempo was high,” she said. “But it wasn’t nearly as hard as it is now. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the people serving today,” Hickerson said.
Hickerson holds a bachelor and master’s degree in flute performance from Converse College in South Carolina. Her military education includes the Women’s Army Corps Officer Basic Course, the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the National War College. Other professional training includes Leadership for Executives, Center for Creative Leadership and the Program for Senior Executives, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Hickerson’s military awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service medal with one oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service medal with four oak leaf clusters, and the Army Commendation medal.
Hickerson lives in Florida with her husband of 43 years, Maj. Dennis Fogarty, USA, Ret.