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Black River woman becomes first female Japanese-American, Army reserve engineer promoted to general

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Black River resident and Army Reserve officer Miyako N. Schanely found herself in rare company as she recently was promoted to general.

She is the first female Japanese-American in the Army to ascend to the rank.

“It’s absolutely an honor,” Gen. Schanely said.

According to the Japanese American Veterans Association, she is only the second Japanese-American woman to reach a flag rank in the entire military, following Air Force Maj. Gen. Susan Mashiko.

The new general’s career follows a long line of service in her family, going back to World War II: Her mother, whose parents emigrated from Japan before her birth in Hawaii, and her father both served in the Air Force.

Her stepfather, an Army warrant officer, performed counterintelligence work in the Pacific as the rest of his family was forced into an internment camp.

“We’re just incredibly proud of him and his whole generation that went through that,” Gen. Schanely said. “He wasn’t the only one.”

In the years since the war, she said “times have changed for the good.”

Gen. Schanely was promoted to general in December at a ceremony at the 412th Theater Engineer Command’s headquarters in Vicksburg, Miss., which was followed by a ceremony Saturday at Fort Drum.

Another important milestone for Gen. Schanely in her new rank is that she is the first female engineer in the U.S. Army Reserve and second in the entire Army to reach the milestone.

Through her career, Gen. Schanely said, the field has been populated mostly by men. As the military moves to expand opportunities for women, she hopes her career can serve as an example for younger soldiers.

“We’re seeing improvements in that across the board every year,” she said. “This is just one more step in that direction.”

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1986, Gen. Schanely served seven years of active duty, which included construction work in Germany and humanitarian efforts in Panama, before changing to the Army Reserves in 1993. In the more than 20 years in the reserves, she has served in units at domestic installations such as Fort Drum and Fort Dix, N.J., all the way to Riyadah, Saudi Arabia.

She now serves as deputy commander of the 412th Theater Engineer Command. Her career awards include the Meritorious Service Medal with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal with Silver and Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal, the Parachutist Badge and the Jungle Expert Badge.

In addition to her reserve service, Gen. Schanely serves as executive director of the SUNY North Country Consortium.

“Time is always the most difficult challenge,” she said.

However, she said, she has been helped by her employer, including the hiring of a temporary replacement when she deployed to Saudi Arabia, and by her husband, Steve, and children, Michael and Teresa.

Asked by friends about her future in the military, Gen. Schanely said she has told them she has no plans to leave anytime soon.

“My answer is I’m still having fun; I’m still making a difference,” she said. “As long as I can continue to do that, I’m going to stay in.”

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