WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2015) — Linda Singh, a then 16-year-old high school honor student living in Frederick, Maryland, had dreams of playing basketball at the University of Maryland and majoring in engineering.
Then one night, her dreams were crushed.
Singh, who is now a major general and adjutant general for the Maryland Army National Guard, spoke at the Pentagon, Sept. 8. Her topic, “A Different View: Living Through Adversity,” was sponsored by the Office of the Pentagon Chaplain.
For a long time, Singh said she was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell anyone what happened that night. Over time, with healing and help from friends, she finally found the courage.
She had just turned 16 and was out drinking with friends and a close Family member, who was on leave from the military.
Later that evening, she returned home with that close Family member, who was staying at her house, she said. She went to bed and about an hour later, “this individual was on top of me. I did not know what to do. I was shocked. Once I got my grips about me, I tried to get him off me.
“I had loved him dearly,” she said, “and I would have never thought he would have done something like that.”
Singh said she was devastated. The next day she stayed in her room because she couldn’t face her parents.
When that person returned to his duty station, she approached her parents to tell them what happened to her, because, she said, her dad was “hot tempered” and might have done something to that individual had she told them when he was still at home.
If Singh was expecting sympathy and understanding, that notion was quickly dispelled.
“What I wasn’t expecting was my mom telling me ‘you probably encouraged it. What did you do? Who else are you sleeping with? Are you sleeping with your dad,'” she asked.
At that point, she said she lost it and “went at” her mom. Her father intervened, however.
“That’s the last day I ever stayed at home. I had to leave,” she said, adding that it wasn’t just that incident. She was a difficult person to be around.
“I had no idea where I was going. I found myself without a home,” she said.
She said she was too embarrassed to tell other Family members about what took place that night so she sometimes stayed with friends and sometimes slept outside. “If it’s not too cold it’s not so bad sleeping outside.”
Singh also dropped out of high school.
Eventually, she said she got a job in a mall, where there happened to be a recruiting office for the National Guard. At that time in 1981, not having a high school diploma wasn’t a bar to enlistment.
The problem for her, she said, is that she was 17 and needed her parents’ signatures. The last thing she wanted to do was to see them. Fortunately for her, she said the recruiter took the paperwork to her parents and they signed.
Enlisting in the Army was a no-brainer, she said. Pay, food, education, a place to sleep and job training. “This saved my life. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t put on the uniform.”
Since Singh was very athletic, she said basic training was a breeze. She added that she loved it and even got a letter of commendation.
After boot camp, she quickly got her high school diploma and continued to advance in her career and education. But not all was smooth sailing in the years ahead.
At this point, Singh offers words of advice and encouragement for others who may be going through similar hardships and difficulties that she experienced.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
She said her No. one piece of advice is when difficulties arise, the chaplain should be one of the first people to see.
“I talk to my chaplain all the time,” even today, she said. What is said between you is confidential and “you can sound off” on a whole range of issues.
“I think that having a strong Family network is extremely important. It’s something I’ve tried to instill in my two daughters,” she said.
Singh said she’s blessed to be married to a great husband. They’ve been married 25 years. She said her husband’s Family is great too, and has been a stand-in for the Family she always wishes she’d had.
EXPAND THE SUPPORT
You’ve got to build and expand your support network, she said, particularly if your family isn’t supportive.
“When you’re going through challenges, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who can help you see a different side of things,” she said. “I’ve built my life surrounding myself with people that have the personality and genuineness that I enjoy. That can really help bring you through the toughest times.”
“I don’t know what I would have done without some of those folks,” she said. “They’re still a part of my life.”
ENGAGE IN ACTIVITIES
Basketball was one of the activities that helped Singh get through the tough times and kept her mind off her troubles.
“When I was on that court, nothing else existed,” she said. “I played basketball all the time. That’s where I was comfortable. That’s where I had more confidence and power. It just kind of helped me. It made me somebody.”
She added that she was always fascinated with electronics as well.
OTHERS MAY HAVE IT WORSE
Realize others may have it worse than you, she said.
When she was deployed to Afghanistan, she said she witnessed children living in dreadful conditions in a refugee camp. She used to visit the camp and made friends with a young girl. She’d often bring some food for her.
The girl and her brother were later killed by insurgents because they were protecting Soldiers, she said.
“Even my worst day is not like what they experience,” she said, referring to children. “If I could have taken every single one of those kids home with me, I would have brought them all back with me.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me. I led a blessed life,” she said.
When Singh arrived at her first duty station to check in, the Soldier processing her paperwork said he doesn’t want females, especially pregnant females, in his Army, she said. She was pregnant with her first child at the time.
Singh had a talk with the sergeant major and “that person was soon gone,” she said.
When she was an E-4, her supervisor, an E-7, asked her to go out with him to a car show. She said she declined.
The E-7 then called her at home. She said he told her: “When I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it.”
She reported the incident to her first sergeant, and soon he was gone too.
She said her first sergeant was so impressed with her character and commitment that he suggested she become an officer. So she did.
It pays to report abuse right away. It’s the right thing to do, she said.
TAKE HARASSMENT SERIOUSLY
When she was a company commander, an E-4 who worked for her had a strange infatuation for her. She said he’d leave flowers on her seat. She said she laughed it off and let it go, but then things started to take a serious turn.
He made references of his sex organs to her and even tried to kiss her, among other things.
Singh said she realized it was no longer an innocent flirt and he too was soon gone.
The behavior of senior leaders is often dishonorable as well, she said, pointing out that she’s gotten rid of a number of senior leaders under her command, even those she’s known for years.
“I’ve put out more senior-level folks in the last two years than you can imagine. They have no place in this organization,” she said.
Leaders need to make the ethical decisions and take a stand, she emphatically said. Unethical behavior like assault and harassment is “plaguing our military, it’s plaguing our culture, it’s plaguing our schools, it’s plaguing our society.”
DON’T HOLD THINGS INSIDE
“I’ve held things inside way too long. I’ve carried around a lot of anger,” Singh said. “Now, there’s a higher being that takes it on for me.
“I now talk to my husband about things I never talked to him about before,” she said.
She encouraged others to reach out to someone who appears to have a challenge or an issue.
PERPETRATORS NEED HELP TOO
While stopping abusers and helping the victims is the first priority, Singh said she’s always tried to offer professional help for the perpetrators. It’s up to them whether or not they accept it, she said.
“Don’t just push them out the door. They may turn around and do it to someone else. At least offer it,” she said.
She commented that the best thing she can do for her own mother is to love her.
WHAT OTHERS SAID
After Singh’s presentation, others in the audience had comments on her message.
Lt. Col. Tyrone Bentinck said Singh’s message was one of hope and inspiration. The 20-year-Army veteran said he hopes other leaders have the courage to take a stand and do the right thing when confronted with similar situations. “It’s about taking care of your Soldiers.”
Bentinck, who has three daughters, said he plans to talk to them about what Singh said.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, special assistant to the chief, National Guard Bureau, thanked Singh for her message and said all leaders, whether military or civilian, need to be held accountable.
Singh replied that she agrees but added the caveat that whenever there’s an incident, it’s important to do a thorough investigation before accusing anyone. “Wrongly accusing someone can be the worst thing. Let the investigation run its course.”
Dean also thanked Singh for her “great leadership during the Baltimore riots and helping restore peace in the city.” Her National Guard Soldiers were called out by the governor following the death of Freddie Gray in April.
“We each have a story to tell, just as she has told hers. I’d encourage you to share it with others,” Pentagon Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Williams said.
“As I walk around this building I see a lot of people who appear to have the burden of the world on their shoulders,” he said. “I don’t know what that burden is. Sometimes they share it with me and sometimes they don’t.
“There are people in this world who drain us of spiritual, emotional and physical energy and then there are people in this world that encourage us and empower us and fill us up with emotional, spiritual and physical energy.”
Williams encouraged everyone to ask themselves which type of person they are.
He said that Singh has “dedicated her heart, soul, mind and body to providing people with hope. She’s a victorious survivor whose life demonstrates phenomenal perseverance and powerful hope.”
MORE ABOUT SINGH
Singh serves as the 29th adjutant general of Maryland. The adjutant general is responsible for the daily operations of the Maryland Military Department, which includes the Maryland Army National Guard, Maryland Air National Guard, Maryland Emergency Management Agency, and Maryland Defense Force.
She is a senior advisor to the governor and is responsible for the readiness, administration, and training of more than 6,700 members of the military department with an annual budget of more than $314 million. As the adjutant general, she serves as the official channel of communication between the governor and the National Guard Bureau and serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet.
Singh is a longtime Maryland resident, where she currently resides with her husband and two daughters. She received her commission in 1991 through Officer Candidate School at the Maryland Military Academy in Reisterstown, Maryland. Her military career spans more than 30 years of service in both the enlisted and officer ranks.
She has served in staff and command assignments at every level, including deployed assignments in Kosovo and a combat tour in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Her previous military assignments include commander of the Maryland Army National Guard and director of the Joint Staff, Maryland National Guard.
Her military decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Kosovo Campaign Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NATO Medal (two), the NCO Professional Development Ribbon, the Maryland Distinguished Service Cross and the Virginia National Guard Bronze Star Medal.
Singh is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College where she received a master’s degree in Strategic Studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Columbia Union College, a master’s degree in business administration, military management from Touro International University, a master’s certificate in Six Sigma from Villanova University, is a graduate of the U.S. Northern Command Joint Task Force Commander’s course and is a fellow from the International Women’s Leadership program at Harvard University/INSEAD.
In her civilian job, she’s a management consultant.
– Female Soldiers who said they experienced “unwanted sexual contact”: FY10, 6 percent; FY12, 7.1 percent; FY14, 4.6 percent
– Male Soldiers who said they experienced “unwanted sexual contact”: FY10, 1 percent; FY12, 0.8 percent; FY14, 1.2 percent
– Estimated Soldiers who were sexual assault victims: FY10, 8,600; FY12, 8,800; FY14, 8,500
– Soldier victims who reported sexual assaults: FY10, 1,316; FY12, 1,248; FY14, 2,077
– Army’s prosecution rate: 59 percent
– Conviction rate: 75-80 percent
– Civilian cases charging Soldier offender prosecution rate: 14 percent
– In 88-90 percent of founded allegations of wrongful sexual contact (FY12-14), commanders took disciplinary action against offenders
According to the Department of Justice’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking office:
– Approximately 30 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities
– 9.3 percent of cases of maltreatment of children in 2012 were classified as sexual abuse
– 62,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012
– About 20 million out of 112 million women (18 percent) in the United States have been raped during their lifetime
– Only 16 percent of all rapes were reported to law enforcement
– In 2006 alone, 300,000 college women (5.2 percent) were raped
– Among college women, about 12 percent of rapes were reported to law enforcement
A 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey on the national prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking found:
– 81 percent of women who experienced rape, stalking, or physical violence by an intimate partner reported significant short- or long-term impacts
– About 35 percent of women who were raped as minors also were raped as adults, compared to 14 percent of women without an early rape history
– 28 percent of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger