CMU alumna’s leadership builds a foundation for success for the U.S. military around the globe
The sun never sets on the work of Lt. Gen. Jody J. Daniels, Chief of U.S. Army Reserve and Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command.
Decorated with three stars, Daniels leads 200,000 dedicated professionals. They contribute skills that power all branches of the U.S. military spread across the world. Her team includes doctors who are managing public health and vaccine distribution for COVID-19; specialists who solve problems regarding complicated transportation, engineering and logistics plans for units around the world; and even lawyers, communicators and other critical professionals.
It’s a vast job that’s almost incomprehensible in scope and importance. Chatting virtually from her home in Virginia, she describes her role as “a series of 48 battle assembly weekends,” one per month over her four-year assignment, which began in July 2020.
“My objective is to improve our mid-grade strength,” she said, as skilled soldiers often opt out after serving their typical six-year term creating a brain drain scenario. “I want to ensure more people continue to serve. So how do I make their first experience the best it can be while offering them other opportunities?”
Rooted in CMU
Daniels’ preparedness to answer this classic question of leadership came through her undergraduate degree in applied mathematics in 1983.
“CMU is really known for its ability to teach problem solving,” she says.
Decades later, specific projects still stand out to her, including a group project from an upper-level computer science class.
“We decided to use a programming language I had never used before. I couldn’t do as much code-writing as those who’d been doing it for years, so I was editing, writing and problem-solving,” she remembered. ”We had to divide up the problem and tackle it to make sure everyone contributed equally and to each of our strengths.”
“CMU also did a lot for my ability to do independent research, check sources and fact check,” she continued. “And that goes along with the Military Decision Making Process. It starts with facts and assumptions, then looks at constraints and restraints, followed by choosing a course of action.”
This process, reinforced over and over at CMU, served Daniels well as her career wound between academia, military and civilian service. She’s earned a master’s degree and doctorate in computer science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. Much of her career has been spent serving in strategic leadership positions in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, as well as directing research at Lockheed Martin.
“The diversity of my background helped me become who I am now. I got to leverage skill sets in different environments and with different people. I can be the translator between the engineers and military folks. I could be that facilitator between those two worlds because I could speak geek, and I could speak soldier.”
Fluency in “geek and soldier” converged perfectly from the start, as Daniels pursued her technical interests while attending Carnegie Mellon on an ROTC scholarship.
“I would not have been able to afford it otherwise,” Daniels says, noting the tuition cost would have been out of reach for her family with three siblings and a father also in the service. “But truth in advertising: both of my parents went to CMU; my father got a degree in print management, and my mom was a College of Humanities and Social Sciences (now the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences) major. My grandfather was chairman of admissions and, on my mother’s side, her father and stepmother went to the Carnegie Institute of Technology. I have my grandmother’s college ring.”
Outnumbered but Never Outdone
Daniels is the first woman to hold the top leadership position in the U.S. Army Reserve, and one of a very few in similar roles in other branches. Ask her about it and you get the sense it’s a question she’s fielded before…many times. She points out that while, yes, she’s usually outnumbered by men, the military is well-equipped to advance talented leaders no matter the demographic.
“The military is a fabulous place for women to serve because the pay scale is known, the promotion timeline is known and the job descriptions are pretty clear. It’s a merit-based system, and that’s the great equalizer,” she said.
“The sorority kind of faded and then it came back. I’ve been in touch with the sorority over the years, but COVID-19 has done a lot to bring us all back together,” she said. “It’s been fascinating to meet these women all over again, and to reminisce about all the weird things we did and what we’ve accomplished since then. It’s been really great.”
The 49th Battle Assembly
Leadership of the Army Reserve is a 48-month assignment. Daniels has big goals to accomplish over her term.
When it concludes in 2024, Daniels knows she’ll start that 49th month with a brand-new assignment: retirement. Her husband, retired Col. John McCarthy, already concluded his service, and she looks forward to more time to devote to their shared interests in trail running, whitewater kayaking and any intense physical challenge — like tire flipping.
“I will have hit the pinnacle of my career. You know, there is no four-star position in the Army Reserve!”
■ Elizabeth Speed