Lieutenant General Nadja West

In honor of Black History Month, every day The Cardinal will feature a prominent person who has contributed to society.


Thuan Tran, Senior Writer

Nadja West was born on March 20, 1961 in Washington D.C. She was soon orphaned but was adopted into a family at two years old along with two other adopted children. She is the youngest of 12 adopted children. Not knowing her biological parents did not stop her from going on to change history, however. In 1982, she earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering and officer commission at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Six years later, she obtained a Doctorate of Medicine degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. From 1988 until her retirement, she specialized in Army Medicine, notably in family medicine and dermatology.

West was inspired to serve in the US Army by her father who served 33 years and her brother, a West Pointer who encouraged her to attend the newly integrated, co-ed Military Academy. Her largest inspiration, though, was Star Trek. A positive influence that she saw on television was Nyota Uhura, the important female translator and communications officer on the series’ multicultural crew. West then chose the life of service to fulfill her personal aspirations.  West’s career in the Army culminated in her historic promotion to a two-star Major General on April 19, 2013. West was the second black female to be promoted to this rank.

“I never really thought about that part. My parents taught me to work hard and be the best I can be and things will work out. I’m just really honored. If anything at all, I hope I can be an inspiration to any one or any group that has not seen themselves in certain positions,” expressed West.  “We all want to see people who look like us doing certain things to give us inspiration. Hopefully, I can inspire someone to be able to say, ‘I can do that.'”

On February 9, 2016, another historic event happened. West was promoted to a three-star Lieutenant General and appointed to be the 44th Army Surgeon General. This groundbreaking achievement by West made her the first African-American Surgeon General, the Army’s first black female to hold the rank of Lieutenant General, and the highest ranking woman to have graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Lieutenant General Nadja West, an African-American female, faced many challenges and setbacks as a double minority but embraced the opportunities it gave her to rise up to the occasion. Her army career expresses that if one wants to achieve, they can achieve, even when the odds are stacked against them. West revolutionized the perception of women in the US Army and open many doors for minority women. Lieutenant General Nadja West is a living example of the American Dream and deserves all the recognition she receives.