FORT HUACHUCA — There is no typical day for Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett.
On any given day, the commanding general for the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) may find herself in a meeting, receiving updates on the current activities on installations throughout the world, boarding a plane bound for Korea, Germany, or any other country where the global command conducts it operations. Or, if she has a spare moment, skiing or kayaking with her husband, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Barrett, cooking, or reading (she recently finished “Ghost Wars,” she said.)
“If I’m lucky, there is space on the calendar where they have not scheduled me to do anything, and then I disappear into this building,” joked Barrett, sitting in her top-floor office in Greely Hall. “I have successfully run off twice unsupervised.”
Barrett, who took over the command of the complex and expansive unit in November from Maj. Gen. John Baker, said she doesn’t want to serve for two years in the position without getting to know some of the 15,000 people who work in the command, only a fraction of whom are based at NETCOM’s headquarters on Fort Huachuca.
“I decided to walk around and talk to people and sit down in their office unexpectedly,” she said. “You know, I don't want to receive all my information necessarily from a meeting.”
As the commander of a unit tasked with operating, maintaining and defending the Army’s networks (which she describes as being kind of like a “mini-Verizon,”) Barrett is regularly presented with a lot of information.
“We’re a global command, a subordinate to the Army Cyber Command,” said Public Affairs Officer Gordon Van Vleet, who said that the command serves 1.2 million customers worldwide, keeping vital communications up and running. “That’s why our slogan is ‘the voice of the Army.’ ”
Although shouldering enormous responsibility, Barrett said she strives to maintain an “even-keeled” persona — one of the ways she would describe her leadership style after 30 years of service and numerous significant leadership positions, including a stint as deputy director of current operations, J-3, for United States Cyber Command.
Barrett did not originally enlist with the intention of “staying” in the Army, she said. She grew up in Massachusetts as the fourth child of five; her father, a World War II veteran and Silver Star recipient, was an elementary school principal, and her mother was also a teacher for a time.
“I would say probably the fact that both my parents were teachers and when you see what career paths the rest of my family took, you do ask yourself whether or not we had a bias toward public service as a result of that,” said Barrett.
Barrett first signed up in order to help pay for her own college, she said.
“I said, ‘Well, this looks pretty good, they'll give me some leadership experience, and then I can do my obligation of four years and get out and go pursue a career in the foreign service,’” Barrett said. “That's what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a diplomat.”
Barrett, who admitted to having a propensity for “wanderlust,” quickly discovered that she enjoyed her military assignments, which have taken her from Kuwait, to the Republic of Korea, to Germany, to Saudi Arabia.
Despite her love for the service, she said, the decision to compete for a general officer position wasn’t one she made lightly.
“You have to ask yourself whether you're ready to make that commitment, because your family’s involved,” said Barrett, who was promoted in 2015. “My husband is engaged with activities here on (post), and he also has to deal with me being gone all the time, so I think everyone who pursues seeking a general officer position does need to ask themselves, are they ready.”
Although Barrett is aware that senior leadership positions in the Army are typically held by men — only 17 percent of the total force is female, she said — she has been “lucky” in that she started out her military career under the leadership of women.
“When I started out on that first assignment in Germany, two out of five platoon leaders in my company were female, and so I felt comfortable — it kind of looked like my own family, brothers and sisters growing up, so I didn't really think anything of it,” she said. “I think because I felt pretty comfortable at the beginning of my career, I have tended not to realize sometimes that I'm the only woman in the room.”
However, Barrett has come to recognize that her position as a woman in a senior leadership role gives her an added responsibility, she said.
“I am cognizant that people take cues from seeing leadership that looks like them — if you're a minority and you see a minority leader, you say, ‘I could do that,’ consciously or subconsciously,” she said. “So I am cognizant of the other role that I serve, not just as a senior leader, but as a senior female leader, to continue nurturing that and making sure that we do the things to ensure a diverse workforce.”
As for her time at the helm of NETCOM, Barrett said she to plans to continue carrying out the unit’s mission of both maintaining current operations and keeping an eye on the future, which includes facing the challenges of an aging and retiring workforce and preparing to incorporate and take advantage of advances in technology, such as Cloud, 5G and, farther down the road, concepts such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.
As for her own future, Barrett isn’t sure where she will choose to settle after a career spent exploring the world.
“At some point, they’re going to tell me I have to retire,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to have a terrible time deciding where I want to be, because I’ve been to so many great places.”