From the nation’s founding to liberty’s battlefields and into the heavens, stars are featured prominently on both ‘Old Glory’ and on the uniforms of America’s senior military leaders who are pledged to defend the freedom and democracy of which that flag represents.
Earning her first star, Paige M. Jennings, U.S. Army Financial Management Command commanding general, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general by Gen. Edward M. Daly, U.S. Army Materiel Command commanding general, during a ceremony at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis Feb. 17.
“We all know how rare it is for someone to become a general officer. Nearly 78,000 officers are serving on active duty and only 117 are brigadier generals and only five are authorized finance GOs,” explained Daly during the ceremony. “If you know Paige, it’s no surprise that she’s one of those.”
Jennings, a native of Missoula, Montana, began her military career in 1995 after commissioning into the Finance Corps as a distinguished military graduate of the University of Montana’s Grizzly Battalion Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
“As I stand here today, I cannot put into words the feelings of gratitude, humility, awe and appreciation that I have felt over the last couple months, and I will tell you there’s been a little apprehension and fear mixed in there as well,” said Jennings during her promotion ceremony.
“As I look at so many faces that I’ve had the privilege of serving alongside over the last 28 years, I realize that all of the training, coaching, mentoring and love I received over my career is exactly what I needed -- and, not just from within the military profession, but from my family and friends,” she continued. “Now all I need to do is trust everything I have learned…I promise I will do everything in my power and continue to do my best for our Army and for our Soldiers.”
Daly said he has no doubt in Jennings’ ability to carry out the Finance Corps’ mission of supporting and serving the Army’s Soldiers, civilians and contractors around the globe.
“Her branch, Finance and Comptroller, make up less than 1 percent of those serving on active duty, but I will tell you, they do some heavy lifting for the United States Army,” the general explained. “She has demonstrated, not only the skills, knowledge, attributes and Army values, but she also demonstrates every day her commitment, character and competence.
“She has this, ‘watch-my-tracer’ mentality and leads from the front,” he added. ‘Paige knows the Army, she lives the Army, and she is making a difference in the Army.”
While promotion into the ranks of general officers is an indicator of a successful Army career, Jennings’ career almost never came to fruition.
She had an uncle who served in Vietnam in finance, but she didn’t know this growing up, and with no one else in her family who served in the military, she said the chances she would choose a military career were very slim.
According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of new military recruits report a family member who served in the armed forces.
“Growing up, I had only been around two military people,” Jennings recalled. “Retired Lt. Col. Hal Nelson and his wife Caroline, who moved to Montana and bought our house, made a lot of memories with me and eventually pinned on my second lieutenant bars…but it was retired Col. Tony McDermott who got me hooked on joining the military.”
McDermott worked in the ROTC department at the University of Montana as an instructor and a professor of military science.
“Without the numerous conversations with him at social gatherings or at the Missoula Trap and Skeet Club, where I was a trap kid and he was out there shooting with my dad, I would have never joined the military and be standing here today,” Jennings explained. “You never know the influence you are going to have so always take [the opportunities].”
Jennings also had a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but opted to go the ROTC route, and she was initially stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“My first position in the Army was as a dispersing officer. Simply put, our office made sure the companies and people were paid timely and accurately with cash and U.S. Treasury checks,” recalled Jennings. “Yes, [electronic funds transfer] was not mandatory in the Army at that point.”
During those first, formative years, Jennings said she quickly learned three valuable lessons that stuck with her throughout her career.
The first lesson came from a coworker who Jennings forgot to say, ‘good morning,’ to with the business of the day.
“As a brand new second lieutenant, you have a enough on your plate just trying to figure out how to navigate the Army,” Jennings recalled. “She scolded me for not saying good morning and told me no matter what I had on my mind or what type of mood I was in, I was to come in the office, and my first duty for that day was to just simply tell everyone good morning.
“I have carried that with me through my career…those simple words, added with a smile, will change your entire outlook and those around you for that day,” she added.
The second lesson she said she learned was about taking care of others.
“While this has always been a part of my nature, you get a nuance when you join the military – it’s not just about Soldiers,” Jennings explained. “It’s about Soldiers and their families, our civilians and contractors.”
The third lesson the newly-minted general said was to expect the unexpected.
“Realize you will never have all the answers, nor should you, but understand how to compile a good team, guide them, serve alongside them, and above all, provide them opportunities to grow, but let them make a mistake and learn,” she said.
During her promotion ceremony, Jennings took the time to recognize two noncommissioned officers who helped her grow early on and continue to guide and mentor her. One of those was a then-Cpl. Kennth F. Law, who now serves as USAFMCOM’s senior enlisted advisor with the rank of command sergeant major.
“As a second lieutenant, one of those NCOs who first groomed me happens to be sitting right here, and I had the ability to have him at my side as I’ve been able to command this unit as my command sergeant major,” said Jennings. “I can’t thank you enough, and I’m so glad I started my journey and I end this journey with you.”
She also recognized retired Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Morrissette, who was also in the audience.
“As a second lieutenant, you’re told that when you go to your first duty location, you trust your NCOs,” she said after asking Morrisette to stand for recognition. “As the baby lieutenant at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he was my first sergeant major, he put his arm around me, and he said, ‘I got ya.’
“Sergeant major, I love you,” she added. “You’ve been there for me forever, and you helped set me on the right foot.”
Jennings saved her most heartfelt remarks for the end as she addressed her immediate family. She presented her first general challenge coin to her father and thanked her parents for all their support throughout the years before moving on to her husband, Larry, and two kids.
“You have been there the entire way, and it was your idea for us to go on this journey,” she said to her husband. “You are my best friend; you are my confidant. I thank you for everything.”
During the ceremony, Larry presented his wife with her general officer’s sidearm, an M18 pistol.
A long-standing U.S. Army tradition is the issuing of a sidearm to general officers. Internally and externally the general officer sidearm is no different to the M18 entering general service with the Army, except for the serial numbers beginning with “G” and “O.”
Jennings also took a moment to thank her children.
“To my kids, Amanda and Lawrence, I am so, so proud of you,” she said. “You are doing so well, you’ve done so many good things, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you.”
“They’ve been an incredible Army team together, supporting each other, raising an amazing family and traveling the world,” said Daly. “Larry, you’ve been by Paige’s side for the entire career at 13 different locations including Fort Belvoir, Campbell, Jackson, Meade, Eustis, the Pentagon, and through deployments supporting operations in Haiti and Iraq, and now here in Indianapolis.
“It’s been said that the strength of our Soldiers is in our families, and you can see that with the Jennings family today,” Daly added.
Helping make Jennings’ promotion ceremony even more special were several family members who participated including her cousin, Paula Fairchild, and niece, Adelyn Tiffin, who played the Star Spangled Banner on the violin and flute, respectively.
Adelyn and her sister, Brynn, also presented Jennings her general officer belt. The history of the belt dates to World War II when Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall directed that the belt be issued to all general officers for wear when carrying a sidearm, except in combat.
Looking to the future at USAFMCOM, Jennings did not hold back her enthusiasm.
“To my U.S. Army Financial Management Command, to my command, I am so proud to be your commander,” she said. “You have embraced me, you have followed me, you have taught me…and, we’re only halfway through.
“We get another 18 months together, and I am so excited at what we get to do together,” she concluded.
USAFMCOM conducts enterprise-level financial operations, provides technical coordination for finance and comptroller units and military pay support with commands across the U.S. Army, in order to ensure the effective implementation of policies and programs to support optimally resourcing the Army and supporting Soldiers.
The two-star command serves as the U.S. Army’s financial operations center, executing financial operations and providing technical coordination and support on finance and comptroller activities across the Army.