In honor of Women’s History Month, the Modern Military Training editorial team is shining a spotlight on women who have pursued STEM-related careers in our Faces of Training series. From astronauts, to military leaders, to fighter pilots, these women are making their mark on history and blazing the trail for young women entering fields where diversity is not as prevalent. And we’re thrilled to share their stories.
Most recently, we spoke with Major General Maria R. Gervais, Synthetic Training Environment (STE) Cross Functional Team Director for the Army Futures Command, about her career path and the discipline and attitude it takes to succeed in a predominantly male field of work.
Even as a young woman, MG Gervais’ interest in science stemmed from a curiosity about how things in her environment worked, with a particular interest in biology. She applied her passion for biological science throughout her military career, specifically regarding human performance. With her bachelor’s degree in biology and her master’s degree in human resources, she joined the service in anticipation of becoming an Army physical therapist. However, her expertise was needed elsewhere as a Chemical Officer, where she advised her command on how they could continue to fight in case of nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare. From there, she became a Commander for the Army Environmental Command, returning to her interests in biology and advising her command on how to sustainably protect their training environment.
She continued to apply these skills throughout her different commanding positions in the Army while weaving in new and evolving technology along the way. “After 32 years now, I’ve been able to apply most of what I’ve learned from a science, technology, and math throughout my entire career,” MG Gervais reflected. She explained to us that training technology in the military always comes back to human performance and honing cognition skills.
MG Gervais on human performance
MG Gervais’ career path was far from traditional, having spent time in different types of units all across the Army from aviation, to infantry, to logistics, to the Pentagon, and pretty much everywhere in between. This afforded her a well-rounded understanding of the Army, how it operates a whole, and what each element of the branch needs to succeed. “This non-traditional approach exposed me to many different facets of the Army and helped broaden me as an Officer,” MG Gervais said. This also led her to be the first female Commander for the HHC 101st Airborne Division, which is an infantry division of the Army trained for air assault operations. This exposure, along with her other experiences, greatly contributed to her interest in helping create a meaningful and effective training environment, ultimately bringing her to her current position directing the development of the STE.
Despite working in a male-dominated environment, MG Gervais focused less on gender and kept her eye on the mission. “It’s important to be a team player. As long as I could be a contributing team member in the mission, it became less about race or gender and more about my abilities as a soldier.”
As with any career path, there were bumps along the way, but MG Gervais made a point of turning those potential bumps into different opportunities for success.
MG Gervais on teamwork
With a 32-year career in the Army, MG Gervais has enjoyed many high points along the way, but what stood out to her most were the accomplishments she achieved on so many different levels in the service thanks to help from her colleagues. Being able to create this legacy within the Army through superior teamwork, all while being part of a dual military family, was invaluable to MG Gervais.
Now, MG Gervais is facing new challenges. As she looked at the future of defense and training, MG Gervais said we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the explosion of technology shaping the training experience today. “These advances in technology are coming so rapidly, I don’t think we fully appreciate the impact it will have on training and fighting in the future,” she said. That is why the creation of organizations like the Army Futures Command is so critical. The new command is helping fuel that progress and encouraging partnership with industry and academia that have a big hand in shaping the future.
MG Gervais on the future of training
For young women looking to enter the world of defense, training, or any STEM-related field, MG Gervais imparts this advice: don’t limit yourself based on where tradition says you should be, and don’t dwell on negative experiences. “Negativity is only going to hold you back, and it will keep you from moving forward to achieve even greater things,” she stated. She is also excited about how many more doors are open for young women in STEM-related professions and she encourages them to identify their passion and find a way for it to fuel what they want to accomplish professionally.