Brigadier General Julia Jeter Cleckley was the first African American female General in the U.S. Army National Guard. Cleckley spent twenty-eight years in the active Army National Guard, rising in the ranks and breaking barriers. She was the first person of color in many positions throughout her career, including the first African American woman to be promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Army National Guard’s Active Reserve Program, and the first woman of color to be named Chief, Human Resource Officer for the Army National Guard. She received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Roy Wilkins Renowned Service Award, which is a military award recognizing her outstanding efforts in community service and mentorship.
Cleckley was born on September 30, 1944 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. She knew she wanted to go to college so she enlisted in the military knowing the G.I. Bill would provide her that opportunity in the future. She began her military career in 1962 by joining the Women’s Army Corps right after graduating from high school. There, she earned the rank as a specialist E-5.
Cleckley left the Army but in 1977 she joined the National Guard commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Adjutant General’s Corps with the 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard. She served as the head of the diversity and mentoring program during its early development in the 1970s. After the unexpected death of her first husband, Cleckley decided to go on active duty in the Army National Guard full time in 1981. On April 24, 1994 she was promoted to Colonel and became the first African American woman to hold that rank in the Army National Guard’s Active Reserve Program. She was assigned to the National Guard Bureau, Military Personnel Branch in 1987 and stationed at the Pentagon where she oversaw appointments and promotions of over 44,000 members of the Army National Guard. Cleckley was promoted to Brigadier General on September 1, 2002, again another first in her career.
Julia Cleckley graduated from Hunter College in New York City, New York with a BA in Psychology and Education in 1976 right before joining the Army National Guard. She earned her MS Degree in Human Resource Management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California in 1985. In 1993, Cleckley was selected to attend the United States War College on a fellowship to study at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
General Julia Cleckley has two daughters, Helene and Ellen. She married her second husband, John Lee Johns, in 1996 but the couple divorced in 2002. Cleckley published an autobiography in 2014 called A Promise Fulfilled, that tells the story of her life as a wife and mother while serving in the National Guard. She is currently President and C.E.O. of Cleckley Enterprises, a speaking and consulting firm, and lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.