Col. (ret.) Teresa Townsend was commissioned into the U.S. Army in 1985 through Tuskegee Institute’s (University) Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Over her 30 year military career, she served in a myriad of command and staff positions in the both the regular Army and U.S. Army Reserve.
Townsend said she had not considered joining the military. She started out in JROTC at Enterprise High School, and in college, she joined ROTC as a P.E. credit. When her instructor talked with her about contracting into the senior commissioning program, she was surprised.
“I never thought about joining the military but I enjoyed ROTC. I enjoyed the comradery and I had grown close to my friends who were also taking the class. I knew the military was a great career track because that is what my Dad had done,” Townsend said.
“I was a pageant girl, so I was real dainty and fancy. My boyfriend at the time said I was too feminine and that I would not be able to succeed. I knew from being in JROTC you can be feminine and be in the military. So I went ahead and joined the Senior program,” Townsend said. “The summer between my junior and senior years, I went to Advanced Camp at Fort Riley, Ks. and ranked in the top 10 percent of my platoon. I went back to Tuskegee University and finished my senior year and was commissioned into the Ordnance Corps as a 2nd lieutenant in the Regular Army.”
Townsend graduated from Tuskegee University as a Distinguished Military Graduate with her bachelor’s degree. After attending Officer Basic Course at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., she was assigned to the 75th Support Battalion at Fort Knox, Ky. Townsend said that that assignment may have been her toughest because they were supporting a combat arms brigade.
“It was probably my toughest assignment because it was a combat arms brigade and we provided logistics support for them everywhere they went. Most people that went to the field would pack up and head to the woods for two or three days, but our unit would head to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Ca.,” Townsend said. “The National Training Center is as close as you can get to a real war outside of actually going. It is very realistic training. As a logistics unit we would deploy for 30-45 days at a time. All of the training was very realistic. I believe that training prepared me more than anything for my deployment that came more than 20 years later.”
Townsend said that her 14 month assignment in Yongsan, Korea was a good experience. She said it was her first time living outside of the United States. During the time she was in Korea, Muammar al-Gaddafi was targeting large military populations overseas and her unit began preparing in case they were ordered to deploy.
From Korea, Townsend was selected to command the 187th Maintenance Battalion, Fort Jackson, S.C., which was the only company in the Army that trained heavy-wheeled vehicle mechanics.
Successful command led to Townsend being selected by the Department of the Army to be the Communicative Skills instructor at the Ordnance Missile and Munitions Center and School (OMMCS), Redstone Arsenal, the professional development school for warrant officers, captains and lieutenants in the missile and munitions career field.
“Most of my career involved soldier training and training development, so I have always worked with people who were preparing for a career. This is probably why I developed a love of teaching and wound up doing what I’m doing now,” Townsend said.
After 10 years of active duty, Townsend transferred to the Army Reserve to pursue her passion to teach while still allowing her to serve her country. During her eight years as a Reservist, she taught English at Enterprise High School while continuing to excel in her military career.
“I really had the best of both worlds, I was teaching and I was continuing to serve my country,” Townsend said. “In 2003, I left EHS to teach ROTC at my alma matter, so I was still teaching and still in the Reserve. In 2004, the second Gulf War started and I was recalled to active duty.”
Townsend served as a Mobile Training Team Chief in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom, for Task Force 1-87 of 1st Brigade, 87th Division, which led to her appointment as Task Force Executive Officer.
“That was a very challenging assignment, because when you would train these units you knew that however you trained and evaluated them they were going to deploy within the next 60-90 days into an active war zone,” Townsend said. “So, your prayer was that you had taught them everything they needed to know to come back safely; to use what we trained them successfully and that they would come back. You never knew whether you were looking at those people for the last time or not. So it was critical that we trained them well.”
Townsend went on to become the Commandant of the Observer Controller/Trainer Academy for 4th Brigade, 75th BCTD and was subsequently appointed to the Commanding General’s Special Staff as the Equal Opportunity Advisor and Unit Public Affairs Representative in Birmingham. Townsend served as the Director of Logistics, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission –Army, Baghdad, Iraq.
“In 2008, when my Brigade Commander selected me to serve on his special staff as the Equal Opportunity Advisor—that was probably one of the best jobs I ever had. They say that there are certain jobs in the military that are the eyes and ears of the commander. The Inspector General is one, and the Equal Opportunity Advisor is another.
“I had a golden opportunity to attend the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI). All the Armed Forces utilize this facility to train Equal Opportunity Advisors. What I liked about the course was that it taught us to be sensitive to other people, helped me see my own biases, and to put myself in the other person’s shoes. It was the best course I ever attended.”
Townsend said the course was a five-month history lesson that taught people about themselves and other people.
“We learned about people from various backgrounds. Every month there is a different celebration of heritage—Black history, Hispanic American, Asian Pacific American, etc. This course gave you the tools needed to help people understand each other. You have to understand yourself and then you can better understand other people. It helped you hone those skills.
“The truth is we all need each other, we are all here together and we are better together. Unity is so important. Some of the things that I see happening now just bother me so bad. I do everything I can here (at Daleville High School) to teach these children to respect each other’s differences. Everybody has a right to be who they are and feel how they feel, but there is a way to do it without being offensive.
“I believe that one of the reasons we have so many problems in our society is because we do not want to talk about stuff that is hard to talk about. We have to talk about the hard stuff if we want to do better. That was one of the big lessons I learned from that course,” Townsend said.
“There is strength in diversity and we are more alike than we are different. We really are. We always think of diversity by what you see—race, gender, disability, religion—but there is so much more to diversity than just those things you see.”
Townsend’s awards and decorations include the Joint Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the National Defense Service Medal, the Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the GWOT Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with silver hour glass and M Device, the Korea Defense Service Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon.
Townsend also holds a Master of Education-English from Alabama A&M University and earned master’s level certification in Educational Leadership at Troy University.
Although Townsend retired in 2015, she continues to serve our country as the Senior Army Instructor at Daleville High School JROTC. In 2016, she was inducted into the Tuskegee University ROTC Hall of Fame as a charter member.
Townsend volunteers extensively in her community and was recognized as Enterprise’s 2016 Woman of the Year. She is the president of the Daleville Education Association and was recently elected as the president of the JROTC Section of the Alabama Career and Technical Education and serves on the JROTC Program Advisory Committee for U.S. Army Cadet Command.
Townsend said one thing she would tell women interested in the military today is, “You just always have to be competent and confident.
“Iraq is a patriarchal society—where males dominate. I was logistics director for the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Army. Our mission was to train Iraqi officers in logistics. I was the director of logistics for that section,” Townsend said. “We would attend meetings with Iraqi generals. A lot of times the Iraqi general would not make eye contact with me. They would look at my (male) contractor or my (male) translator who would always refer them back to me as the one in charge because they are not accustomed to women being leaders.”
Townsend said that throughout her career, military and civilian, a constant has been her faith in God.
“My faith was a big part of my success. At every military base I was stationed, I always linked up with the chapel service and I always had a church family—that was key. I learned to stay humble; nothing that happened to me and for me has been because of me. I know I have been blessed. I am well aware that not a lot of people achieve the rank of colonel, but you know, I just try to stay humble because it could have gone a different way.
“I know I have been blessed to meet the right people and have the right jobs. Really every job that I had was not necessarily a job to prepare me to be promoted to full bird colonel. I just did every job to the best of my ability. I think that is how I have been successful. Even though it may not have been the greatest job, I always found something to love about it and I gave it 100 percent effort,” Townsend said.
“Now I am in another job where I am doing what I love, I am teaching and I get to still be connected to the Army and everyday, I get to influence these young people to believe that they can be more than what they think—to reach for the stars.”