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The Army Lawyer


First Female First Sergeant Duo at TJAGLCS



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1SG Charlene Crisp, left, and 1SG Cierra Caldwell, right, are the first female First Sergeant duo at TJAGLCS. 1SG Caldwell is the senior NCO in the LCS’ student detachment, and 1SG Crisp is the deputy commandant of the NCOA.

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For the first time in Regimental history, there are two female First Sergeants (1SGs) at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (TJAGLCS): 1SG Cierra J. Caldwell at the Student Detachment and 1SG Charlene M. Crisp at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy (NCOA). While there have been female 1SGs previously at TJAGLCS—like Angela Moore, who was the first female 1SG at the NCOA—this is the first occasion where two female 1SGs have been present in Charlottesville at the same time. Their careers as Soldiers are worth examining because they are models to emulate; but, the assignment of 1SGs Caldwell and Crisp is also important because it reflects the drastic improvement in opportunities for women in uniform in the Corps and the Army.

1SG Cierra J. Caldwell1

Born and raised in St. Charles, Missouri, 1SG Caldwell joined the Army while she was a junior in high school, just three months after she turned seventeen years old. When she was a freshman, her history teacher invited two Army recruiters to talk to the class and—after hearing what the Soldiers had to say and seeing the videos they showed—Cierra “knew the military was for [her].” She liked the idea of travelling, wanted structure, and “wanted to be a part of a team much larger than what [her] hometown had to offer.”

While 1SG Caldwell was convinced that the Army was her future, it took her three months to convince her mother to allow her to enlist. When her mother finally gave her permission, Cierra enlisted in the Army Reserve; she chose to enlist in military occupational specialty (MOS) 27D as a paralegal specialist rather than choose an engineer MOS that would have taught her how to build bridges.

After going full-time active duty in March 2005, Caldwell decided to make soldiering her career because of the people. “I have built friendships,” she commented, “with people I never would have met had it not been for the JAG Corps and the Army.” She values the relationships she has with peers, subordinates, and her leaders. As she puts it, “I am here for the long haul and will stay until I cannot.” Given these sentiments, it makes sense that 1SG Caldwell was chosen to be the senior NCO in the Student Detachment, where she is tasked with ensuring that the Corps’s newest uniformed attorneys start off their time as judge advocates in the right direction.

1SG Charlene Crisp2

Just as 1SG Caldwell had to convince her mother to let her enlist before she was eighteen years old, 1SG Charlene Crisp also had to have the consent of her mother to enlist in the Army at age seventeen—as an aircraft electrician. Crisp “sought the challenge and structure that the Army provided.” But she also was sold on joining the Army because of the skills she would learn, experiences she would gain, and places she would travel.

While stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then-Sergeant (SGT) Crisp began doing “on the job training,” or OJT, with now-Master Sergeant (retired) Dawn Byrnes—also an MOS 27D Soldier. Crisp decided that she loved MOS 27D because “it was complex and always changing,” and she “fell in love with the JAG Corps because of how it takes care of its people.” Consequently, when it was time to re-enlist, SGT Crisp declined a bonus to stay in aviation and reclassified as a paralegal NCO in 2007. She has no regrets because she is now “where [she is] supposed to be.”

First Sergeant Crisp was recently selected to attend the Sergeants Major Academy, so her future as an NCO is a bright one. As she puts it, “I plan to keep bringing my best to make the Corps proud . . . I’ll know when I am done, but I feel like I am just getting started.” Given this attitude, the selection of Charlene Crisp to serve as the Deputy Commandant, NCOA, makes perfect sense.

A Tale of Two Genders

Why is the presence of two female 1SGs at TJAGLCS significant? In 1972, the Army was gender segregated, and only about one percent of all Soldiers were female. While gender segregation officially ended with the dissolution of the Women’s Army Corps in 1978, it was not until after the Gulf War of 1991 that opportunities for women Soldiers increased beyond those traditionally thought to be appropriate for females in uniform. Combat aviation positions were opened up to women in 1993, but this was only a start. It took another twenty years before then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the ban on women being assigned to units below the brigade level whose primary mission was to engage in direct combat. Not until 2015—five years ago—was Ranger school opened to female Soldiers. Only recently are women able to qualify in MOS 11B, Infantry.

When one remembers that the active Army is—still—only about fifteen percent female today, simply on the basis of numbers alone, getting to the top of the enlisted ranks in any MOS remains a challenge for women. Even in MOS 27D, which is roughly thirty-five percent female, getting to the top of the pyramid as a female paralegal specialist is no easy task.

Additionally, the Army is a traditional institution, in which change is incremental rather than revolutionary. Consequently, there are Soldiers in it—mostly male but some female—who find it difficult to accept that gender should no longer be considered when deciding who should serve, where they should serve, and how they should serve. Those traditional ideas about gender, however, are disappearing rapidly—albeit certainly not fast enough for some Soldiers.

As 1SG Crisp puts it:

I’m not out to conquer the world because I am a female. I also am not naive enough to believe that men and women are good at the same things—because, well—God made us different, so that’s just not true. I want to be successful because of my character, competence, and intellect; not because someone needs a girl on the team.

The Bottom Line

Since 1SG Caldwell started her soldiering as an MOS 27D, while 1SG Crisp is an MOS reclass, the careers of 1SGs Caldwell and Crisp demonstrate that there is no single path to being a senior NCO in the Corps. The bottom line is that excellence as a paralegal specialist has its rewards, and that 1SGs Caldwell and Crisp are models for all members of the Corps to emulate. TAL


Mr. Borch is the Regimental Historian, Archivist, and Professor of Legal History at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia. The author thanks COL Tania Martin and CSM Mike Bostic for their help in writing this article.


1. E-mail from First Sergeant Cierra Caldwell to author (Mar. 11, 2020) (on file with author).

2. E-mail from First Sergeant Charlene Crisp to author (Feb. 3, 2010) (on file with author).