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21-year-old Sydney Barber will be first Black woman to serve as U.S. Naval Academy brigade commander

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For the first time in 175 years, students at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., will be led by a Black woman. Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber will during the spring semester be the brigade commander, the academy said in a release Monday.

21-year-old Barber from Lake Forest, Illinois, will assume the role — highest leadership position within the student body — until she graduates with her degree in mechanical engineering. She will then commission as a Marine Corps ground officer, according to the release.

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Barber’s position is selected through an application and interview process by senior leadership and the commandant’s staff. As part of her duties, she will be in charge of the professional training of other midshipmen and the daily activities of the brigade.

“Earning the title of brigade commander speaks volumes, but the title itself is not nearly as significant as the opportunity it brings to lead a team in doing something I believe will be truly special,” Barber said in a statement. “I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history.”

Barber graduated from Lake Forest High School in Illinois, and became a walk-on sprinter and hurdler of the Navy Women’s Varsity Track and Field team, earning varsity letters her first three years, according to the release from the academy. “She is the co-president of the Navy Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club, secretary for the National Society of Black Engineers, and a member of the USNA Gospel Choir and Midshipman Black Studies Club,” the release added.

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Barber will be the 16th woman selected for brigade commander in the 44 years women have been allowed to enroll in the academy. The first woman brigade commander was then-Midshipman Juliane Gallina, who took up the position in 1991.

Eleven years prior to Gallina’s role, Janie Mines became the first Black woman to graduate from the Naval Academy. Now a management consultant who mentors midshipmen at the academy, Mines received Barber’s news with unconcealed joy. “This brought me to tears,” she wrote. “This young woman, Midshipman Sydney Barber, will be the first Black Female Brigade Commander at the U.S. Naval Academy. 40 years later. Thank you, Sydney! Love you!”

With this announcement, Barber becomes the second Black woman to make history in the military this year. Lieutenant Madeline Swegle in July became the U.S. Navy’s first Black female tactical fighter pilot.

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In 2017, Simone Askew also became the first African-American woman to earn the role of First Captain, leader of the Corps of Cadets.


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