‘I Can Find Women, Civilian and Military, Who are an Inspiration to me Really Quickly’
Sgt. Maj. Lemakius Gardner’s maternal grandmother married young, and she and her husband became parents to 10 children. Then her husband passed away, and she raised her large family alone.
“She was this strong individual that kept her kids and grandkids together,” said Gardner, who has been the Exchange’s senior enlisted advisor for Europe/Southwest Asia/Africa region since Sept. 1. “I always wanted to be like her. I started to do things just like her.”
Gardner’s paternal grandmother was an inspiration. “She pushed her family,” Gardner said. “She had a lot of grandkids and she was always there for us. When my dad and mom had to work, the grandkids were always at her house. She pushed me to keep going at times that I saw myself giving up. Both grandmothers and my mom pushed me to continue to be the woman I am today.”
One of Gardner’s jobs before joining the Exchange was Army culinary specialist. Her grandmothers and mother had an influence on that, too.
“They had me in the kitchen early on, cooking at 10 years old, and I just loved it,” Gardner said. “There was a culinary specialist job in the military so I selected it. I was able to go to those schools where the Army partnered up with a college and allowed us to go there to do culinary jobs for about a year as students. My grandmothers and mother could cook their butts off, and so can I.”
Gardner talked further about the female influences in her life for this Exchange Post Q&A.
Outside of your family, who were some other women who influenced you?
I’m someone who likes to surround myself with those who have the same drive to succeed and who can help push me to get to the next level. I can find women, civilian and military, who are an inspiration to me really quickly, just by listening to them and watching how they carry themselves.
I’ve been with the Exchange about six months and right off the bat, I could see how Miss Marla [Smith Randolph], the big boss in Europe for the Exchange, carried herself. She has become one of the women I see as a role model. Not just as my boss, but as someone I can really look up to. I hope to be like she is with associates- she’s very positive and approachable. I want to be like her and continue that once I leave the military.
Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman were very strong women. I just met a female colonel. I had never met a female colonel in the Army and automatically, I began to look up to her. I read about strong women and think about them when I’m struggling with something.
How have you seen stores in Europe/SWA/Africa honoring Women’s History Month?
I still haven’t gotten a chance to go into some of the stores, but when I see their shout-outs, I see what they’re doing. For Women’s History Month, I see the stores going above and beyond, so it’s like, “What are they going to do next?” I’m at a loss for words because whatever is going on for a particular month, those stores are going to represent that month, and just to see the Women’s History Month displays is amazing.
How should we think about women’s history beyond Women’s History Month?
Continue to work. Work hard, do what you need to do. You don’t want to forget how long it took women to have equal rights. I don’t want to ever forget where we started and where we are today. We still have a ways to go, but we have a seat at the table, where we didn’t before. Women’s History Month lets us know not to forget.