Gwen Bingham didn't set out to become a career Army officer.
When she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps in 1981, she initially thought she'd serve her four-year commitment — the Army paid her way through college with a ROTC scholarship — and then leave the military.
Fast-forward 30 years and Bingham, a native of Troy, Ala., will be promoted this afternoon to brigadier general during a ceremony at the Lee Club on Fort Lee.
As she reflects on a career that spans three decades, she says the seeds for a military career were planted in her youth.
"Quite honestly, I think I was hooked from the moment I walked on a parade field with my dad," Bingham, 51, said this week.
Her father, Edward McMillion, retired as a first sergeant in the Army after more than years 20 years of service; he pinned the second lieutenant bars on her shoulders when she was commissioned in August 1981 at the University of Alabama.
Since then, Bingham has been breaking barriers as she has risen through the ranks. Last year, she was one of 12 women recognized as trailblazers in an exhibit at the U.S. Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee.
In November, she became the first female U.S. Army Quartermaster General and commandant of the Quartermaster School.
Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, commanding general for U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command, praised Bingham during that ceremony six months ago as a "proven leader" who will continue to move the Quartermaster School forward.
Bingham currently oversees the training of more than 20,000 military students annually.
"I know full well, what we teach and train here in the Quartermaster School, these young men and women, many times, are going to graduate from here and link into formations that are deployed to missions around the globe," she said. "It is incumbent upon us to make sure we train them well."
Bingham and her family have called Prince George County home since 2000, when she was assigned to Fort Lee as a battalion commander. She is married to Patrick J. Bingham, who is the director of military affairs at Virginia State University and is a School Board member in Prince George.
Though assignments have called her away from home the last 11 years, including a deployment last year to Kuwait and Afghanistan as special assistant to the commanding general, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, assignments also bring her back to Fort Lee.
In 2005, she became the first woman to serve as the installation's garrison commander. In November, she took command of the Quartermaster School, which has been housed at Fort Lee since World War II.
"I recognize my historic role as the first woman in both of those roles," said Bingham. "It's more of an honor for me to know that I'm standing on the shoulder of giants who have gone before me to allow this to happen."