Major Nadrian Denise McGill

Our spotlight for the of the month of February, 2010 is Major Nadrian Denise McGill, who is the United States Marine Corps’ Site Commander, Site Support Staff, Inspector-Instructor Washington DC, which is located at the Navy District Washington, Anacostia Annex. Major McGill is the first African American as well as the first women to serve in this position, so Destiny – Pride thought it befitting to spotlight her for the month of February.

Destiny – Pride: Good morning, Major Nadrian McGill. Destiny – Pride is a new organization that deals with some of our most disenfranchised and vulnerable residents in trying to rehabilitate and to habilitate their lives to make them whole and productive. In my tenure as a DC Government worker, I began to partner with the Toys for Tots under the immediate supervision of Staff Sergeant Addison Fair, who is now retired. Out of that relationship, I had an opportunity to see first hand, the commitment of the servicemen in reaching out to some of the same vulnerable populations. With that, tell us something about yourself – your family; where were you born; are you married; any children? If not married, do you plan to have a family somewhere down the road, or are you looking to make the service a career choice?

Major McGill: Well, I’m from Sanford, Florida, which is actually in between Orlando and Daytona Beach in Central, Florida. Currently single; no children and never been married. Yes, I do hope my mate finds me and finds me soon [laughter]; and with that, I hope to have a family.

Destiny – Pride: And the latter part – Do you plan to make the service a career?

Major McGill: In March I’ll be coming up on 17 years.

Destiny – Pride: When I saw you, I guess when you look at the word “Major,” one begins to preconceive images, and it was refreshing to see that everything is in relative terms. Such a young person at your age. Your bio, when we went online to see all that you have accomplished, we found it very impressive.

Major McGill: Well, thank you.

Destiny – Pride: How long have you been in the service? What was it that made you decide to serve in the military?

Major McGill: Well, I’ve been in it – it’ll be 17 years in March; actually March the 20th of this year. What made me come into the service? Actually, when I really think about it, because I’ve never been asked that before, I really can’t say it’s one particular thing that made me come into the service. I am a military brat – both my parents were in the army. However, they didn’t have extensive careers in the army. I have other relatives in my family who were in the service but that wasn’t a guide for me. Actually, it was right between my junior and senior years of college and pretty much I kind of put my foot in my mouth. One of the things I used to like to do on Sundays in college was watch documentaries, and this particular documentary I was watching this particular Sunday happened to have been on the recruit training that the recruits get at San Diego in the Marine Corps. Well, I didn’t know that they only trained males in San Diego at the time. And so when I looked at it, I thought the Marine Corps was a little bit chauvinistic [laughter]. Lo and behold the next day going to class, there was a Marine Corps recruiter on the campus, and I just walked up to him and let him have it. He didn’t know what hit him. He was like “What just happened here,” because another female had just pretty much did the same thing. So I told him about what had happened that Sunday, and I said “you don’t have any females . . .” and he said “Whoa, wait a minute.” So, a long story short, he basically showed me that there were, and in May of that year – in ’93 – I ended up at Parris Island, at recruit training.

Destiny – Pride: Did you take any ROTC in high school?

Major McGill: I had no ROTC in high school; nothing in college. I was pretty much an athlete in high school and college, and that was pretty much what I devoted my time to.

Major McGill: Track.

Destiny – Pride: And to what particular sport?

Destiny – Pride: Track?

Major McGill: Track and field. Actually, I got a four-year scholarship to college for track.

Destiny – Pride: And to what college was that?

Major McGill: Middle Tennessee State University.

Destiny – Pride: Did you ever want to do anything other than what you’re doing?

Major McGill: Growing up, it was track or singing. Singing is a passion of mine. I haven’t been able to do a lot of it since I’ve been on the east coast. But that was my other option, but again, we get in college and get into what you want to do. I kind of looked around and said, “Okay, in the music industry, you can sing like Aretha [Franklin], but if you don’t know anybody, all you’re doing is singing like Aretha [laughter].” So it was kind a like “Okay, maybe I need to look at something else, or have some other ideas about how I want to feed myself until I graduate [laughter], because one thing I wasn’t going to do was go back home to my mom.

Destiny – Pride: We understand that you are a woman of strong faith and deep convictions which both are integral to your being. What is the source of that?

Major McGill: I was pretty much raised up in church. When I was growing up, I attended a Missionary Baptist Church, and was very active in it. Growing up in a single parent home, my mother very much into church and making sure that we attended church on a regular basis. I was very active growing up in church and I pretty much had a strong spiritual foundation. Needless to say, when I went to college, I kind of broke away, but I still had my faith. And then, once I got out of college and got into the military more, I had something to fall back on, you know, on those hard days – those challenging days – but that was pretty much my upbringing.

Destiny – Pride: Do you find it difficult to balance both your faith and your career? If difficult, why? If not, how do you do it?

Major McGill: No I don’t. I don’t find it difficult to balance because one of the mottoes that we have in the Marine Corps is “God, Country and Corps.” Now, it’s up to the individual whatever god they’re serving. In my faith, I’m Christian. And with my background in that, I just rely on that. Now granted, I do understand that there are politics in there, when you’re dealing with the government, but at the same time, I really don’t have a problem with it. It’s been a source of strength for me. I have no problem with – on those hard days – closing my doors and getting on my knees and saying, “Lord, you need to talk to me or something [laughter]. Continue to guide me. And with me being in the position I’m in now – a Commander – I definitely pull on and tug on his skirt tail and say “Hey I need the hem of your garment or something, because I need your help [laughter], because I have to deal with a lot with married troops, and I’m not married. I’ve never been married, and looking at it from a spiritual standpoint, I really don’t have a whole lot to say. But, being a Commander, I do have some say or some advice I can give, and that’s pretty much where I pull from.

Destiny – Pride: We were made aware of, and you told us about, your singing ability, and in particular, gospel singing. Tell us about that. 

Major McGill: Again, like I said, I was raised up in the church. I was singing in the church since I was very young, and when I got stationed in California, the church I was affiliated with out there was Friendship Baptist Church in Yorba Linda. From that, I met people who were in a gospel group. Basically, I was asked to try out for it; I got in. It was a good time. I traveled a lot and did a lot of good things for the community. Again, with me loving to sing and then with me having the background of college – my degree is in recording industry and management – it fit right in. It was a good time. And then, of course, I got recalled.

Destiny – Pride: Please explain.

Major McGill: I got recalled. I had actually gotten off of active duty in ’99. But I was still in California, affiliated with the group and my church. But I got recalled for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. And I was recalled to Hawaii, so that kind of put that [singing] on hold.

Destiny – Pride: I think I also read that you received an award for one of your recordings?

Major McGill: Right. When I was with TP Mobb, out of California, we got a Recording Industry of America – I think it was the Golden – Award, because our hit son “Goodtime,” was on the WOW 2000, and that actual copy of that CD sold over 500,000 copies and we got a Golden Award for that.

Destiny – Pride: And what was the genre of Goodtime?

Major McGill: Goodtime? Actually the group we had basically had been known as – it’s kind of strange saying it now, but – the “hip hopsters of gospel,” and basically from that, our audience was the youth, because if you can listen to regular, secular hip hop, okay why not listen to something that’s going to nourish your soul?

Destiny – Pride: Okay, so if I would go to purchase it, would I look for R&B, or R&B mixed hip hop or straight hip hop?

Major McGill: R&B, it’s a feel of it. It’s kind of in the middle, R&B, but some songs on the album that we did were strictly R&B; some songs may be considered strictly hip hop, but it was in that kind of genre.

Destiny – Pride: Were you ever tempted to cross over into any other musical genres, like jazz, R&B, classical, etc? If so, what stopped you?

Major McGill: Growing up from the age of seven, my favorite artist was – and still is today – Stephanie Mills. So with that type of background, she was the one who interested me into possibly being a professional singer. When I joined T.P. Mobb in ’98, I just saw that as my entering into the business. What stopped me was the recall, which put everything on hold because I had another focus that I had to do. Now, I pretty much sing – I just got an email the other day and I was asked to sing the National Anthem for a Black History program in Quantico. I did it last year, but I won’t be available that week, so I had to – sorrowfully – decline.

Destiny – Pride: You have made reference to T.C. Mobb . . .

Major McGill: T.P. Mobb – Total Praise Mobb.

Destiny – Pride: ;That’s the name of the group?

Major McGill: Right.

Destiny – Pride: I have also had some activity in entertainment, and you mentioned Stephanie Mills.

Major McGill: Yes.

Destiny – Pride: She has a very unique – not only sound, but presence, almost to the degree of the presence of gospel, R&B, blues and that voice that carries all of that and blends it together. So am I to understand that that is your style?

Major McGill: [Laughter] I’ve never really looked at that, nor have I ever tried to compare myself to Stephanie because she’s somebody to whom I’ve looked up to, but I guess you can say since that’s my background, coupled with the fact that I was raised up and sang in the church, I guess that would be an accurate assumption [laughter].

Destiny – Pride: In looking at a list of tasks you are responsible for, it is impressive, but also challenging in that one person carries that much responsibility on their shoulders. Could you please share with us what those responsibilities are?

Major McGill: Well first and foremost, my biggest responsibility that I take on personally is the welfare of my troops, and that’s on the job and off the job. I constantly express to them, “you have the opportunity to further your education, so take advantage of it.” Also, one thing that I found out on my 16 years is, in the military, they’re used to wearing their uniform everyday, so they really don’t have a choice in what they wear. “You’re not going to be in this gun club forever; you’re going to have to go to what we call ‘first civ div’ [military humor for the “division” one enters when one is discharged from active duty – civilian life]; eventually you have to know how to dress.” So, on Fridays I implement “business casual,” just basically so they can get a taste of, “this is what I may have to wear when I get out.” That went over pretty well. It was a self-check for them to know that, “OK, I need to widen my wardrobe.” [Laughter] 

I don’t necessarily consider my job a challenge, although there are some times when it is challenging, with this actual billet [soldiers’ place of occupation] being one of the most challenging ones in the Marine Corps – in MarFoRes [Marine Forces Reserve], in particular – because of the structure of this command. It’s structured where I am the Commander of the Site, and I have units that don’t necessarily belong or fall into my hired chain, so you have to juggle and make a workable, pleasant atmosphere because there are certain chains that I have to cross in order to make things work here. Since I’ve been here – I checked in at the latter part of July, so at the end of this month, it will have been six months – it’s gone pretty well, trying to make the “deals,” if you will [laughter], work where it’s transparent to the Junior Marines and Sailors, because they don’t need to see all of that; they just need to know and be confident in the fact that they can come to work and work, and not have to deal with the things that are on my level or levels that’s higher than them. So, that’s pretty much what I’ve been dealing with since I’ve been here, because it’s a unique structure here. And, of course, learning the whole Toys for Tots piece [laughter], because I am pretty much the DC rep for the Toys for Tots now that – I don’t know if she will next year – the First Lady basically made it a supportive thing that she and the White House supported for this year. The holiday season was like – wow! And I actually got a chance to go the White House and meet the First Lady. So that was really good. That was one of the biggies. I said “wow, I didn’t know I was going to get to do all of that, but I’ll take it.”

Destiny – Pride: How many troops do you supervise?

Major McGill: Well here, normal day-to-day, there are about just over 60 Marines and Sailors that are a part of the daily staff. What we support are the Reservists who come on deck during the drill weekends. Depending on how many come on deck on that particular weekend, that escalates up to well over 300 plus. I’m not necessarily in charge of all those Marines, but certain things that involve or cross over into my duties, I have to oversee or be responsible for. One in particular is making sure those Marines get paid [laughter]. They want to get paid. I make sure that certain things in their personal file gets done. It’s off and on, but on a daily basis, it’s just over 60 and, on drill weekends, it escalates to over 300.

Destiny – Pride: One of the areas that just stands out here is that, it says that you also manage – I think you’re being somewhat modest in your responsibilities – it says “manage and designated garrison function including the mobilization of the facility maintenance, community outreach, casual assistance of military funeral honors, family assistance, recruiting public affairs,” and, naturally, you talked about “Toys for Tots,” but I can go on. That’s the reason why I say sometimes its somewhat challenging if you just look at the tasks. I know that you couldn’t probably talk on all of them, but it’s very impressive. Let me also just say this: Usually you can ask a service person what their age is, but the difficulty here is that you are also a female and they say you never ask females their age.

Major McGill: [Laughter] Well I’m probably the exception to the rule on that. I’m 37. I have no problem with telling my age to anybody. I thank the Lord everyday for life, so why would I turn around and take away that thanks by not telling how many of those days I’m thankful for.

Destiny – Pride: Now another question: One of the individuals that I had the pleasure to meet with Toys for Tots was a Colonel. It is my understanding that you are the first female and the first African American to handle the post you are in, which has been – for the most part – a man’s position. So the question is, based on, (1) your being a female; and (2) your being one of the first in this position, what type of response did you get from the people you have to supervise? Let me say that images are real, and you don’t look 37 [laughter]. Okay? We’ll start with that. And people believe that wisdom and experience come with age. So in your position, do you ever feel some apprehension being on the “other” side?

Major McGill: No, because in the Marine Corps, they pretty much look at your rank and weigh that as far as what experience you should or may not have. I do sometimes get, “Hey, you don’t look like a Major,” but at the same time, I also get that if I’m in civilian clothes. And then once they see me, those who don’t know my rank – those who haven’t worked with me – once they see me, it’s kind of like the “second look” thing, “now wait a minute [laughter], you’re a Major?” And I’m like, “yeah, I’ve been one since 2005 [laughter].” So, again, it’s more so they look at your rank and gauge what you should and should not know or what you should and should not be capable of. So regardless if you look like you’re 12, if you walk around with a Major rank on, you should know what a Major is suppose to do because in the Marine Corps, we pride ourselves on our promotion process. It’s not perfect – and nothing’s perfect – but at the same time, we do our promotion process a little different than the other services. Whereas we say, basically you really earn your promotion by your past experiences and your past performances. I really can’t argue about the other services because I really don’t know their promotion process, but I do know that the Marine Corps differs. So, again, they look at your rank as far as basing on what you can and can’t do. 

Now as far as – I guess you could say – the race card, if you will, right now on active duty in the Marine Corps – and I’m only guessing now – it’s probably about 15 black female Majors – on active duty. When I got promoted to Major in 2005, there was less than 25; so you can see that that number has declined somewhat. The total demographics of African American officers in the Marine Corps is probably around 1,000, and that includes both male and female, and of course out of that you have your different ranks that you go by. And we’ve made a conscious effort to go out into the community and to promote the differences in racial backgrounds in the Marine Corps. One of the particular things that I’m involved with is diversity – Office of Recruitment and Marine Corps Recruiting Command – where they go out to different events, if you will, for different ethnic backgrounds, basically show of face that the Marine Corps does have African Americans, they do have Latino Americans; they do have Asian Americans in the Marine Corps. Two events that I went to last year was the CIAA in Charlotte, which I’m going to again this year, and also the Bayou Classic in New Orleans. Those are two events, off the top of my head, and there are some other ones.

Destiny – Pride: Will you all have a recruiting table?

Major McGill: We actually have the recruiters from the area to come out and to show a presence, but at the same time, we’re just there pretty much to communicate with the public and answer any questions that they may have that pertain to race or how is it being an African American in the Marine Corps, or just how is it in general to be in the Marine Corps, what is required. Again its more so to show the face of that background and our being in the Marine Corps.

Destiny – Pride: I think I heard you say that it’s around 1,000 active African American officers in the whole Marine Corps, is that right?

Major McGill: Yes.

Destiny – Pride: And what is the total capacity?

Major McGill: The total capacity of the Marine Corps? Right now, somewhere around 205,000 – that includes the Reserve side as well.

Destiny – Pride: That’s less than, not even one percent.

Major McGill: Well if you look at it in that grand scale. Now we do have minority officers in the Reserve side as well, but I don’t know those numbers.

Destiny – Pride: Someone told me – and I’m not going to tell you who it was – that there is a tough side to you, too [laughter]. Because I cannot begin to fathom a person in your position – you have this very gentle type of overtone of you, but somebody said there’s a tough side to you [laughter]. Do you feel that sometimes when people fail, the other side has to come out?

Major McGill: It does because it has to, but for the most part, I try to present myself as being approachable to my Marines, because I understand my position and I understand my rank. For the most part a lot of Marines that may work for me, they haven’t had the opportunity or haven’t had the experience of communicating with an officer. So a lot of times when I have them come in my office for whatever – not necessarily because they’re in trouble – I have to break the ice because they are immediately thinking something is wrong: “Why am I in the Major’s office? I did something . . .,” and you can see their brain going [laughter]. I have to calm them down, “You are not in trouble. If you were in trouble you’d already know before you get in here.” But, again, I try to make sure I’m approachable; make sure I have that rapport with them so they can feel comfortable in talking with me. As I know, every officer isn’t like that. We have some others enlisted that aren’t like that, and that’s their leadership style. My leadership style is to let my Marines know that I’m human, too. I go through probably some of the same things you do and it’s okay for you to talk to me. Me as your Commander, I don’t want to know every aspect of your life, but those things that can compound and affect you being a Marine, I need to know those things – feed it to me; I’ll decide what I need to keep and what I need to throw away, but at the same time, it also gives me some kind of sense of “Okay, I’m doing something right,” when I do have a Marine just come out of the blue and ask me a question that deals with something personal because they want my opinion. And it gives me some satisfaction in knowing that. Like I said before, my biggest thing is troop welfare, and that just doesn’t mean on the job; it means outside the job as well because I’m looking at the whole individual, and that’s what I feel I need to look at, because the whole individual encompasses them being a Marine as well as them being Mr. or Mrs. So and So out of town. So, it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

Destiny – Pride: And I can gather you have no intent in failing.

Major McGill: No, I don’t. I don’t. That’s just being the characteristics of my upbringing and, on top of that, me being a Marine.

Destiny – Pride: Whether or not you accept it, you are a role model for others to follow. What do you say to that?

Major McGill: I’m actually kind of humbled by it, because it’s not something that I seek to do – to be a role model. Like I tell my friends or people who may look up to me, “I’m just Nadrian.” That’s who I try to be. I try to be no more and no less. I don’t try to put myself up on a pedestal, but I do make it a point to make sure that when I lay down at night, I have a clear conscience. And I definitely believe in the Golden Rule, and that’s at work and not at work: “Do unto others as I would have them do unto me.” And in that regard, when I do have a Marine that comes to me with a problem, trying to understand, I try to put myself in that Marine’s shoes – one, in dealing with their situation and two, having to come tell me about it [laughter].

Destiny – Pride: Since you used your first name “Nadrian,” is there any history behind your parents coming up with that name? Was there a fight between your father, mother – one wanted a boy and one wanted a girl? What’s the history behind that?

Major McGill: The history behind that is a close friend of my mother named me. My middle name is Denise; that’s what my mother was going to name me. My mother’s name is Nadine. So a friend of hers said “No, make it closer to your name,” and so she came up with “Nadrian.” And my mom went “I like that!” And that’s how I got that name [laughter].

Destiny – Pride: Okay. That is cute [laughter]. What are some of your future plans as you chart out the next steps of your journey?

Major McGill: I really like doing things with my hands. One of my hobbies is making soap and making cosmetic items. I’ve had some good and promising feedback about things I’ve made for family members and friends. So I’m thinking about, once I hang up my Marine Corps jacket and cammies, I’m getting into that business of my own, but I just like doing stuff with my hands. Possibly getting back into singing, but not expecting it to be more than something I like to do on the side. That’s about it.

Destiny – Pride: Do you ever sing to yourself?

Major McGill: No, I don’t [laughter]. I don’t. And I’ve never been one to sing on queue, like someone saying “I heard you can sing, sing something for me” [laughter]. What?

Destiny – Pride: What would you say to other individuals who might be considering a career in the service?

Major McGill: I’d say get all the information you can beforehand. If that’s something you’re serious about doing, in whatever service you choose, again, find out all you can about that service and what is required of you as a service member because I found out, especially in the last few years, that a lot of service members that are coming in, come in with a misconception of what they’re expected to do, and it’s like “No, wait a minute, you needed to know about that beforehand.” So basically, you need to educate yourself, and go for it. There are a lot of great opportunities, being in the military. They all aren’t going to war [laughter].

Destiny – Pride: For our website visitors, what would you want them to gather from our conversation and what final thoughts do you have?

Major McGill: To gather that Major Nadrian McGill, although at times others have tried to put her on a pedestal, I just try to remain humble and do what is right, and make sure that those around me understand that, no matter what it looks like, I’m trying to do my job to (1) make sure everybody comes away from me with a positive experience, and (2) make sure everybody knows that I care – I do care about my position, I do care about my Marines, I do care about us in this Marine Corps as a whole, us in this Department of Defense as a whole, and that there are really some good opportunities in the military. So educate yourself, and make sure it’s something you want to do.

Destiny – Pride: Destiny – Pride thanks you for the opportunity you have afforded us to let people know about the tremendous work that you are doing and most importantly the journey that has brought you to the place where you are now in your journey. We at Destiny – Pride are so honored to have had you chosen as our Spotlight of the Month for the month of February 2010, and especially during Black History Month. We salute you; we wish you continued success in your career and your life’s pursuits; and we look forward to partnering with you in the upcoming Toys for Tots drive.

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