Lexington High’s calculating leader makes history as first female commander
Lexington High School Mathematics Teacher Erika Perry spends weekdays surrounded by numbers, calculations and formulas.
On the weekends, however, she enters a world of camouflage and command centers. During a change of command ceremony held Feb. 12, Maj. Perry made history as the first female commander of the South Carolina National Guard 51st Military Police (MP) Battalion.
“I am so humbled, honored and excited…that I don’t even think much about being the first female,” she said. “Throughout my career, I have always worked hard to be the best soldier and officer, not just the best female.”
Though her appointment is historic, Perry contends being a female soldier is only a matter of logistics — needing a separate tent, latrine and shower.
“All of the duties and expectations are the same as my male counterparts,” she said. “I would never ask my soldiers to do anything that I would not do myself.”
Perry says the chance to experience a classroom without walls led her to the National Guard. While teaching at Batesburg-Leesville High School, she received an invitation to accompany the school’s Army Junior ROTC cadets to Fort Jackson for camp.
“Not only did I get to do everything the cadets did, like rappel down Victory Tower, negotiate rope bridges and fire a weapon for the first time, but as an educator, I got to see students learn in a classroom outside of the brick and mortar that we use every day,” she said. “It was incredible to see them truly excel, and learn lessons not just about being a soldier, but also about being a productive citizen in society.”
Perry’s father and grandfather served in the military. Perhaps that’s why those days at camp sweating alongside the cadets resonated so deeply with her. As a result, Perry realized her best option for serving in the military, while remaining a teacher, was the SC National Guard. She joined in 1999.
Perry sees similarities between the roles of platoon leader and company commander — in both roles she not only plans training, but also facilitates and implements the training. “In the classroom, we plan lessons based on standards, and we facilitate the execution of those standards,” she explained.
During her years in the National Guard, Perry served in Iraq and Afghanistan and on the home front during times of crisis, like Hurricane Matthew. She appreciates the LHS administration’s support of her military career throughout her 19 years at the school.
“They made sure I always had a home at LHS and that I could continue being involved in the Teacher Forum Leadership Council during my deployments and mobilizations,” Perry said.
After being commissioned as a military police officer in 2001, Perry rose to the level of platoon leader in the 133rd MP Company when the group deployed to Iraq in 2003.
She later served as the executive officer of the same company from 2005 to 2006 and the company commander from 2008 to 2010. At the same time, the LHS teachers chose Perry to represent them as their 2005–2006 Teacher of the Year, and she went on to become the district’s Teacher of the Year in 2006.
For the past three years, Perry served as a Future Operations planner at the SC National Guard’s Joint Forces Headquarters and, most recently, as an Assistant Operations Officer with the 59th Troop Command, writing orders, tracking training, and supporting the brigade.
“Before and after Hurricane Matthew, I was ‘fighting the fight’ from behind a computer,” she said.
Perry wants to spread what she has come to know as a lifestyle. She would love for her story to inspire those she sees in the LHS hallways. “I hope that female students see that they can truly do anything they want, including serving in the military,” she said.