Colonel Antoinette R. Gant proudly stands facing a packed room of family, friends, and colleagues. Her eyes are beaming. Her smile can’t be contained. She not only commands the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) South Pacific Division; she’s in complete command of the attention in the room. Her husband, son, and daughter join her on a small stage. With careful hands, her family unveils two shiny silver stars from decorative boxes. That’s the last time her family—and anyone else, for that matter—will see her in a colonel’s uniform.
It took 28 years for the newly minted Brigadier General Gant to come full circle to this moment. Back then, she walked the halls of Texas’s Prairie View A&M University as an ROTC cadet, contemplating the adventures and opportunities a career in the Army would bring her.
Today, she’s back at her alma mater making for her promotion ceremony to become the USACE’s first active-duty African-American female general.
“It feels absolutely amazing!” said Gant about her recent promotion ceremony on October 28. “Twenty-eight years ago, I took my oath of office in the All Faith Chapel and felt it only fitting that I return to the Hill to pay homage to where it all began.”
Before ever taking the reins of the USACE South Pacific Division in July 2021, Gant was trotting the globe in her Army career serving in a variety of command and staff positions for engineering units at home and abroad. Her tours include: commanding the USACE South Pacific Border District, overseeing the barrier projects in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; commanding the Louisville and Albuquerque Districts; serving as the combined joint engineer for the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan; serving as a military assistant in Washington, D.C.; heading the Directorates of Public Works and Installation Support in Kuwait; and serving as the executive officer for Special Troops Battalion and brigade engineer at 4th Infantry Division in Colorado.
Gant admits that—much like joining the Army—Prairie View A&M was not her first choice, but “the right choice.”
“Both have given me so much,” Gant said. “My foundation—of which I credit my parents—was nurtured on these grounds … Our motto is ‘Prairie View Produces Productive People’ and I’m just one example of what that looks like,” Gant said.
The Port Gibson, Miss. native is no stranger to the value and virtue of education; especially the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Her parents—both educators—encouraged Gant from a very early age by sending her to summer camps focused on science or math.
A strong advocate for STEM—which was upgraded to STEAM, to include the arts—the 2021 “Black Engineer of the Year” award winner has worked to develop partnerships with agencies and organizations to promote those initiatives.
“I really enjoyed math … and having a mom who taught biology, chemistry, and physics was as huge influence,” Gant said. “That’s why I pursue ways to create and support STEAM outreach. Kids need to feel less disadvantaged and have more opportunities to be inspired to become a STEAM hero.”
However, it wasn’t until she attended a career day event at Alcorn State University and heard a former student of her parents talk about their work as a civil engineer that Gant began to realize her calling. [Note: That former student was Patricia Sullivan, who currently serves as the associate director for USACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center.]
“I researched it and told my parents, ‘I’m going to be a civil engineer!” Gant said.
“I think we all recognize how much teachers influence what we go on to do in life,” said Gen. Randy A. George, the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff and presiding officer at Gant’s promotion. A longtime mentor and colleague of Gant, George couldn’t help but acknowledge the strong educational foundation Gant received at Prairie View A&M. He made a small request of the school’s faculty and staff.
“Please keep producing Toni Gants. That’s what we need,” George said, inciting a long applause from the audience.
George spoke on the many moves and deployments Gant has seen in nearly 30 years of service and thanked her family for their continued support of her Army career. He summed up his time working with Gant by relaying their tour at the Special Troops Battalion in Afghanistan.
“When I had to put together a staff for that tour and pick a person to make a difference, it was clear who I had to choose,” George said about that particularly tough deployment. “Toni made the absolute difference.”
“Now let’s put that star on and make history,” George said to another thunderous applause.
Gant took the gravity of the event in stride. “Every day is a good day to be in the Army,” she said as she addressed the audience for the first time as a general officer. “But of course, today is a little more special.”
She thanked her family, guest speakers, colleagues, and guests who traveled from across the country to share in her special moment.
“It really does take a village and the Gants are thankful to you all for being our village,” she said.
Gant expressed her pride and satisfaction in knowing she choose the right path for her life.
“There is no greater feeling than knowing my job as a military officer is essential not just in combat but in everyday life, right here in the United States,” she said. “I get to be a part of delivering vital engineering solutions, in collaboration with our partners, to secure our nation, energize our economy, and reduce disaster risk. How cool is that?”
She also expressed the significance of having her promotion in the place where it all began for her.
“Returning is just a small way for me to say thank you while allowing students—especially the ROTC cadets—to realize that nothing is impossible,” she said. “Think about the word [impossible] … It really says, ‘I’m possible!’ And here we are.”
Gant graduated from Prairie View A&M University as a distinguished military graduate with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering and a commission in the Army’s Engineer Regiment. She holds a Master of Science in engineer management from Missouri University of Science and Technology, and a Master of Science in national resource strategy from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. She is also a certified Project Management Professional.