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Walking the Walk
Rockdale resident Brig. Gen. Maria Britt describes heading the Georgia Army National Guard

Memorial Day is not just another holiday to Conyers resident Brig. Gen. Maria Britt. As head of the Georgia Army National Guard and its first female general, Britt feels a strong responsibility to remind people of the real meaning of the day.

"It’s important to talk about it —especially to our children. Freedom should never be taken for granted," she said.

Britt finds that her position includes many rewards and challenges.

"I’ve found that most people I encounter are very receptive to females in leadership," said Britt. "The hardest part has been getting more recognition simply because of being female. I prefer to go about my business rather than being in the spotlight. But the flip side is that I get more opportunities to share the Guard story. It isn’t about me — it’s about the institution."

"I’m borrowing this rank," she said, touching the starred lapels on her shoulders. "And some day, I’ll give it back. I didn’t get here by myself — there are a lot of wonderful people behind this rank."

Britt spoke earlier this week at ceremonies that brought the meaning of Memorial Day to the forefront.

One event involved speaking to a group of new recruits at the Atlanta Military Entrance Processing Station’s dedication to Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, an Atlanta native who was killed in action in July 2008 while defending a combat outpost in Afghanistan.

Later that day, she spoke to a group of 41 Atlanta-area soldiers who had been wounded in combat and were beginning the long process of healing.

"As warriors transitioning back to the military or into civilian life, their sense of pride was still very evident. Many struggled proudly as they limped forward to receive their American flag. Others grimaced with pain, but found a smile as they clutched those stars and stripes as best they could. What a vivid reminder that freedom isn’t free."

Britt feels a strong sense of pride in the young men and women who are signing up for military duty today.

"This generation is great! We need these high-tech kids," she says. "They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It warms my heart to know that we have such a strong generation behind us."

As the wife of Rockdale county native, Col. Timothy Britt, she is uniquely able to relate to both the soldiers under her command and to the experiences of their families. She has noticed that as our current conflicts endure, more military families are bonding together.

"The soldier’s family is the bedrock of the military. The National Guard is dedicated to putting our resources toward military family support."

The mother of three daughters finds that motherhood goes hand-in-hand with the responsibilities of her job.

"A mom is the servant of her family, and it’s the same in the military. It’s not about you, but about your soldiers. It’s about building them up then stepping back and watching them do their thing—and of course, providing correction when it’s needed," Britt says with a smile. "The hope, faith and trust that I see in my daughters’ eyes is what inspires me to keep soldiering."

Britt’s military career began when the independent, self-motivated 17-year-old decided at the advice of her father to apply to West Point.

"I knew that I wanted something structured for my future," she says.

Britt still remembers the cold January day that her acceptance letter came. "We were all excited! My parents were hovering over me as I opened it. We knew that this was going to open many doors for me."

Britt’s military career has spanned 26 years and she finds that with every passing year, her appreciation for America increases.

"When you look back at our history, something about America really jumps out at you, over and over, time and again. We come not to conquer, but to free nations. We’re not in the business of adding more stars to our flag."

"When you think about how great our nation is, you realize that to be born free is really an accident. We could have been born anywhere. But to live free, now that has been paid for by our veterans. To live free is a privilege, paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of our veterans. And for us now, to die free, for our children and our grandchildren to die free—that is the obligation of our generation."