In 2004, Rebecca "Becky" Stevens Halstead became the first female graduate of West Point to rise to the rank of General Officer in the United States Army.
Becky was amongst the female trailblazers in a historically male institution. She entered West Point in 1977 as a member of the second class to include women and graduated in 1981.
Along with her entire class, Becky experienced a memorable and historic last semester at West Point. In her senior (Firstie) year, on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as our Nation’s 40th President—the same day our US hostages were released from Iran following 444 days of captivity. President Reagan, who starred in the movie "The Long Gray Line", had always loved West Point. His heartfelt decision that the former hostages would be welcomed back and reintegrated at West Point, spending their first three nights in the United States at the historic Thayer Hotel, served to add another page to the West Point legacy and spoke to his high regard for the institution.
Cadet Becky Halstead stood alongside the hundreds of cadets who lined the street to form a welcoming wall of gray, celebrating the arrival of the freed hostages as they and their families were bussed across the hallowed grounds of West Point. The event held a special significance for Becky as one of the senior officers held in captivity, Commander Don Sharer, and his family were also personal friends of the Halstead family. She was honored to escort them into the Cadet Mess Hall the evening of January 25, 1981, where they along with the other hostages were greeted by a thunderous roar of cadets wildly cheering and banging their silverware on their plates. It was a turning point in Becky’s cadet career as Becky expressed in a letter to her parents after the historic event:
“…the famous, hallowed words of General Douglas MacArthur, ‘Duty, Honor and Country’, had new life breathed into them tonight as we honored the hostages and their families in the Cadet Mess Hall. I met Commander Sharer and his family at the steps of the mess hall. I gave them both big hugs and kisses. Everyone was crying. I shook Commander Sharer’s hand, stepped back, saluted and said, ‘Welcome home, Sir!’ He smiled and replied with, ‘It’s great to be home!’ As we walked into the mess hall the cheering was overwhelming. The excitement, concern, and patriotism, were omnipresent! As the Glee Club sang our national anthem, it gave me chills and made me feel proud to be standing at attention and being a part of the greatest Academy in the US and the greatest country in the world. I have never felt greater. The whole experience added so much to my cadet career and my purpose in life!”
Just two months later, on March 30th, President Reagan would be shot in an assassination attempt. The attempt on his life did not deter our beloved President, who personally attended and delivered the emotional commencement speech for Becky’s graduating class—The Class of 1981, “Strength As One, ’81.”
From this historic and dramatic start to her Army career, Second Lieutenant Halstead would herself make history 22 years later, when she was announced for selection to Brigadier General in January 2003. With her selection for promotion, Becky would become the first female West Point graduate to achieve the rank of General Officer.
Becky was born March 26, 1959, and was raised in Willseyville, New York. She graduated from the local Candor Central High School, and received her Congressional appointment to West Point in 1977.
She entered West Point in July with 103 other women and over 900 men. As a cadet she played on the women’s volleyball, softball and team handball teams. She was also the team manager for the women’s basketball and swimming teams.
Following graduation on May 27, 1981, Becky was commissioned in the Ordnance Corps. Her first assignment was with the 69th Ordnance Company in Vicenza, Italy, where she served as a nuclear weapons storage and issue platoon leader, operations officer and executive officer.
After being promoted to Captain and attending the Ordnance Advanced Course, she had consecutive company commands, beginning at the Headquarters Company, followed by the 63rd Ord Co, for the 80th Ordnance Battalion, Fort Lewis, Washington. As a senior Captain she became the only female Aide-de-Camp to a three star General.
In the ensuing years she would be selected for Major and serve in the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division at Fort Campbell, KY, followed immediately by promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and served in the Pentagon before becoming a Battalion Commander in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii from 1997 to 1999. After serving as the 325 Forward Support Battalion Commander, Becky was selected to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair, Washington DC, where she earned her second Masters degree.
Upon completion of her schooling, Becky was promoted to Colonel and given command of the 10th Mountain Division Support Command at Fort Drum, New York. During her service at Fort Drum from 2000 to 2002, she deployed with the 10th Mountain Division to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, in support of the Global War on Terror.
In 2002, she was selected to serve as the Executive Assistant (EA) for the Combatant Commander, US Southern Command. At that time, she was the only female officer of any Service to be assigned as an EA to a Combatant Commander. She was then selected for promotion to General Officer in January 2003.
During 2003 she served as the Deputy Commanding General, 21st Theater Support Command in Germany, as a promotable Colonel. In this capacity she was responsible for overseeing logistics for the largest movement of equipment in and out of Europe since WWII, in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Becky pinned on her star for Brigadier General in 2004 and became the Commanding General of the 3rd Corps Support Command (3rd COSCOM) in Vth Corps, US Army Europe, Germany. In 2005 she deployed her command to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and became the first female Commanding General in our nation’s history to lead America’s sons and daughters in combat operations at the strategic level. Becky led 20,000 Soldiers and 5,000 civilians in the Iraq combat Theater of Operations from 2005 until 2006. Her 200 plus company-sized units provided distribution logistics (supply, maintenance, ammunition, water, fuel, medical supplies) for the 250,000 men and women serving in Iraq.
After commanding in Iraq, Becky returned to the United States in 2006 and became the first female Chief of Ordnance (the second largest branch in the Army with over 100,000 personnel in maintenance, ammunition and explosive ordnance disposal skills), and served as the Commanding General for the Army’s Ordnance Center and Schools.
Becky retired in 2008 after 27 years of service to our nation. At the time of her retirement, she had achieved the highest rank by a female West Point graduate.
Following retirement, Becky spent one year as the Executive Director for Leader Development for Praevius Group. Then, in 2010, she started her own company, STEADFAST Leadership. As an inspirational speaker, consultant and advisor, she is teaching and coaching leadership to others, sharing her leadership expertise, experience, and the principles she first learned at West Point and then demonstrated and refined as a leader of character for 27 years in her military profession.
In 2010, Becky’s philosophy of leadership, STEADFAST Leadership, was published as a case study by the Harvard Business School. During this time, she also served as a Commissioner on the President’s Military Leadership Diversity Commission. As a dedicated advocate for improving health care for military members and their families she became a spokesperson for the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. In 2011 she was inducted into the Ordnance Hall of Fame in recognition of her contributions to the Ordnance Corps.
In the course of three decades of service to her country, she immortalized herself not only as one of the first women to enter the Academy, but through the remarkable accomplishment of becoming the first woman graduate to become a General Officer. The nation had changed considerably and Becky, along with her classmates, paved a new path for both women and men of future generations. From Cadet to General Officer, she inspired all those she served with, and has become an iconic figure in the history of the Long Gray Line.
In November 2011, thirty-four years after her military journey was shaped by the historic and life changing return of the hostages, General Becky Halstead’s distinguished career is being memorialized by the dedication of a room at the historic Thayer Hotel in her honor.