Command Sergeant Major Mary Kyser (ret)
Photos by Brit Huckabay and courtesy the Kyser family
Retired Command Sergeant Major Mary Kyser grew up in Greenville, Mississippi, graduated from Greenville High School, and promptly joined the Army. Why? “I knew that most military persons were better educated, better paid, and better off than in the civilian sector at my age of 19,” Kyser says. Even back then she had clear goals and was determined to meet them. Attending basic training at Ft. McClellan, it was an extremely challenging but exciting time for Kyser as a member of the WAC (Women Army Corps). “I was part of an elite group of female soldiers with pride and an intense sense of commitment toward each other and country,” she says. “That was the first time I experienced a sense of loyalty to something outside of my family.” Fourteen months later, Kyser made the rank of Sergeant, no easy feat for anyone in that time frame but especially impressive as a young black woman in the early 80s. However, as they say, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’
Kyser applied for drill sergeant school, which is where they make or break future leaders. In this case, they made Mary Kyser, or rather she made herself. Being a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was extremely challenging and set the stage for the rest of her career. “It was my first experience as a mentor,” Kyser says. With her MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) in the Ordnance Corp, young staff sergeant Kyser was assigned to Germany as a battalion motor sergeant where she served a tour, and then in no small part due to her charisma and natural leadership abilities, was promoted again and transferred to Fort Dix in New Jersey to become an instructor.
Fast forward through the years and tours of duty in Fort Bragg, Korea (twice), Saudi Arabia, Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, and even Iraq, and we start to see why she was named Army Sergeant of the Year with continual promotions along the way. Her locations kept changing while her responsibilities continued to increase. Sergeant Kyser realized her role was “to put the well-being of the masses ahead of my personal well-being.” She committed to living her professional and personal life in the same manner. The culmination of Kyser’s career was being promoted to Command Sergeant Major (the only female of that rank at that time in the Ordnance Corp) and attending the Sergeant Majors Academy at Fort Bliss in Texas, a 42-week program to develop the Army’s top noncommissioned officers.
Command Sergeant Major Kyser retired from active duty in 1997, relocating to Alabaster so she could help take care of and be closer to her mother, Blanchie Mitchell. Her mom “raised us as a single parent teaching us life skills that helped me achieve my goals.” Blanchie said to her daughter, “Come be with me in Mississippi,” and Kyser said, “Mom, I’ll come as far as Alabama.” That was 22 years ago, and then newly retired Command Sergeant Major Kyser began to make a new life in Alabaster. Kyser has one son, Cedric, who enlisted in the Navy and deployed at the same time during Desert Storm/Desert Shield in Iraq. Before Kyser left for Iraq, she said to Cedric, “Son I want you to decide which college you want to go to and start applying.” Then while she was in Iraq on deployment, Kyser reached out to Cedric to ask where he was going to college, and he said, “Mom I’ve joined the Navy, and im heading your way.” Kyser laughs and says, “That was one way to avoid college.”
Kyser’s new career in Alabama was as a JROTC instructor. She was accepted into the Troops to Teachers program and started teaching at Sussex Central High School and later moved to Vincent Middle School. As Kyser says, “JROTC is all about motivating young adults to become better citizens.” Twenty-four years later, after another rewarding career as an educator and varsity coach, Kyser retired again. “I was fortunate to have two rewarding and fulfilling careers, one serving our country, the other, serving our community,” Kyser offers. When asked what she plans to do next, she says, “Relax and enjoy retirement!” Well deserved!!