For the first time in 175 years, the United States Naval Academy has appointed a Black woman as a brigade commander. The U.S Naval Academy was established in 1845, but it wasn’t until 1976 that they began to allow women to attend the academy. Eighty-one women eagerly took the pledge to serve the country, but it would be many more years before any of them were allowed to hold the distinguished role of brigade commander, with Midshipman 1st Class Juliane Gallina being selected for the role in 1992.
And while 14 more women were selected to take that role over the years, a Black woman was never given a chance to prove her mettle in the powerful position at the top of the brigade’s leadership — until now.
The Naval Academy announced on Nov. 6 that Sydney Barber, Midshipman 1st Class, earned the title of brigade commander. To be chosen as a brigade commander, a midshipman must demonstrate “outstanding leadership performance.” It’s a highly competitive position, and the role is highly coveted by all Naval Academy students.
The U.S. Naval Academy shared the news on their social media pages:
The Commandant of Midshipmen announced the spring semester MIDN leadership positions, Friday, Nov. 8, which includes the selection of #USNA's first African American female brigade commander, MIDN 1/C Sydney Barber, of Lake Forest, Ill. https://t.co/oxCWvjpnXZ pic.twitter.com/neuaPMxFC1
— U.S. Naval Academy (@NavalAcademy) November 9, 2020
Barber, a Lake Forest, Illinois, native, spoke of how meaningful the moment was to her in a recent press release.
“Earning the title of brigade commander speaks volumes, but the title itself is not nearly as significant as the opportunity it brings to lead a team in doing something I believe will be truly special,” Barber said in a statement from the U.S. Naval Academy. “I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history.”
Barber is a mechanical engineering major who also someday hopes to be commissioned as a Marine Corps ground officer. She is already a record-holder at the academy for her sprint in the 4×400 relay, and she has lettered all three years that she has competed as a sprinter and hurdler in the Navy Women’s Varsity Track and Field team. She also is a 2020 Truman Scholar national finalist.
“She is a catalyst for action, a visionary, a listener, a doer, and a person driven by compassion, by faith, by a fierce sense of passion and heart full of love,” said Midshipman 1st Class Ryan Chapman, whom Barber will be replacing as brigade commander, in the press release. “Sydney is the perfect person to lead the brigade.”
News of Barber’s appointment went viral after Janie Mines — who was the first Black woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980 — shared how meaningful this appointment was to her as a Black woman.
“This bought me to tears,” Mines wrote of Barber’s appointment on LinkedIn. “This young woman, Midshipman Sydney Barber, will be the first Black Female Brigade Commander at the US Naval Academy. 40 years later. Thank you Sydney! Love you!”
Congratulations to the new Brigade Commander!