Daleville High School JRTOC Senior Army Instructor Col. (Ret.) and former Coppinville Junior High School student Teresa Townsend served as the guest speaker at Coppinville Junior High School’s Black History Month Program on Feb. 11.
Townsend, a former Coppinville student herself, started off her speech by complimenting the students on their good behavior.
“I want to commend you for that and thank you for putting me at ease just by your behavior so far,” Townsend said.
Townsend thanked Principal Debbie Hope as well. Townsend’s speech came one day after a new statue of Coppinville’s mascot, the eagle, was installed outside. The eagle is also the insignia designating the full colonel rank.
“One thing that Coppinville Junior High School can say is that the eagle landed two days in a row, here at this school,” Townsend said.
Townsend said that for her speech, she decided to talk about her life so that the students would know that they could do anything.
“I started right here in Enterprise, Alabama,” Townsend said. “So you can start here and you can go anywhere.”
Townsend talked about how she was born in Ozark and moved to Enterprise when she was 4 years old. She said she attended Pinedale Elementary School, Holly Hill Elementary School, CJHS, Dauphin Junior High School and Enterprise High School.
It was at EHS that she discovered the JROTC program and she made drill team with three friends. After graduating EHS, Townsend went to Tuskegee University, then Tuskegee Institute, leaving her friends behind.
“The lesson to that is sometimes you can’t go with your friends,” Townsend said. “You have to go your own separate path and that’s what I did.”
At Tuskegee, Townsend joined the Army ROTC, sang with the Tuskegee Singers and was involved in the student government at the university. Townsend would then contract into the early commissioning program.
“So for two years I was a full-time college student juggling a part-time job, getting up at 5:30 in the morning and going to PT, giving up my weekends to be lost in the woods on Yankee Road at Fort Benning learning land navigation and then learning the art and science of leadership,” Townsend said.
Two years later, she received her commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.
Townsend would spend her career rising up the ranks being deployed to multiple assignments, including a war zone in Iraq and a job as an Equal Opportunity Advisor.
“The thing about that job that I enjoyed the most is that it allowed us as a country to celebrate diversity,” Townsend said. “All that really means is we get to celebrate and honor all the different people and ethnic groups that have come to America to make our country what it is today. I was very proud to work in that program.”
Eventually, she reached the rank of colonel.
“I was the only officer in my brigade to be selected to be promoted to colonel in the fall of 2010 and that came with a lot of hate, as you can imagine,” Townsend.
Five years ago, Townsend retired and took a job with the JROTC at Daleville High School, where she still works.
“The program is doing great and I am the first and only woman to serve as JROTC instructor in the Southeastern United States,” Townsend. “I’m also privileged to serve as president of the JRTOC section of the Alabama Career Technical Education under the State Department of Education, and I’m the first female to serve on the U.S. Army’s Cadet Command’s JROTC Program Advisory Committee.”
Townsend reflected on her career.
“It was not easy,” Townsend said. “Understand that everything I went through and everything you see today represents a lot of hard work, heartache, some sleepless nights and a lot of prayer—a whole lot of God’s grace and mercy. I remember being in meetings where I was the only black person or the only woman or both, but I knew that I was not walking alone. I walked into outstanding conflict situations knowing that the only thing I had to rely on was my God, my brain and my grit.”
Townsend ended her speech by reading a poem she learned at Tuskegee, “Equipment” by Edgar A. Guest.