RADFORD, Va. - The Radford Army Ammunition plant's first female commander has completed her two-year term and is preparing for the change of command ceremony Friday, where her predecessor will take over the position. Each commander's two-year term is an era of its own. Commander Alicia Masson's time there is especially significant not only because she was the first female commander, but because of the significant environmental changes that have been made here during her term.
Thursday was Alicia Masson's last full day as commander. She said she has spent the week packing and finishing up final reports and projects that wrap up her term. Although she says she doesn’t want to leave the area, she is taking good memories with her and is looking forward to her new assignment.
"I've met some of the most genuine, kind folks I've ever met in my life in these last two years,” Masson said.
The grandchild of two war veterans, and serving multiple deployments, this year marks her 18th year of military service. She said she prides herself on her commitment to public service and serving her country.
"Previous commanders have told me, 'It's going to be strange for you; a lot of nostalgia, you are going to get emotional,'” Masson said. “No, no, I'm going to be fine. Sure enough, last night I was looking through and just collecting up memories as I was packing my car."
The post is a competitive position in the military to get assigned to, and she was the first woman to earn the job. Although she says gender has never been a focus, it comes with some internal pressure to perform.
"Pressure from the plant? Not at all,” Masson explained when asked if she noticed extra pressure from her peers at RAAP. “Do I place more pressure for myself? Do I raise the bar for myself? Absolutely.”
Despite being the first female in her position, she is no stranger to competing in a male-dominated field. She is the only female commander in her MSC. She said she was welcomed by the team when she started at Radford and was excited to take on the challenge, although she admits the post was intimidating.
“I was terrified when I was coming into the job, and I didn't tell anybody. I'm not scared anymore, and I am really proud at what we were able to do as a team,” Masson said.
But if you ask those around her, they'll tell you she's gone far above what they were looking for in a leader. In her time at the plant, 100 percent of production and shipment goals from the department of defense were met.
But the changes weren't only internal. Masson built a bridge with the community through public service projects and quarterly meetings with the community that allowed the public to ask questions about environmental concerns that they felt were previously ignored.
"We've been able to rebuild not just our team here, but our team within the organic industrial base, within the ammunition enterprise, the county's, the public officials, schools, universities. All of those relationships existed in the past, but they kind of ebb and flow. And I feel like they have been under-pinned and they are much tighter,” Masson said.
Her proudest accomplishments, however, are the environmental changes made. Drastically reducing RAAP’s emissions, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to make RAAP greener.
"That's huge. It forever gets rid of an opacity problem, and forever changes this place,” Masson said.
Although Masson largely denies credit for the progress, she was instrumental in pushing the move forward. She said, however, that changes were long in place by the team at RAAP and the experts employed there from the local community. She largely credits herself to the employees at the plant.
Although she is finishing her assignment at RAAP, she will continue her career in the military. Next, Masson will transfer to the D.C. area, where she will work within the inter-agency of the army’s nuclear chemical activity, which is an Army staff position out of the Pentagon.
“I’m excited about that, and excited to use my other skill set,” Masson said.
Friday, the command will change over during a military ceremony called the transfer of colors.
“Transfer of color symbolizes the transfer of authority. For me the outgoing commander to the incoming commander. By accepting, the person acknowledges that they are now responsible for the organization. It is a really powerful moment,” Masson said.
“It's absolutely one of the greatest honors for us as a commander that you received the colors and should pass them back upon the successful completion of the command tour,” Masson said.
This transfer of colors ceremony will be especially significant for Masson because she began her military career with him. “What makes it better is when you pass it on to someone that you know. And in this case, it is the second time in my career I have passed a set of colors to a person who I personally know. And in this case, a really good friend, so I'm excited for him. I'm excited for his future. He is incredibly bright, and I know that he's going to be good for the plant,” Masson said.
Although the move is bittersweet, Masson said she couldn’t be more proud of her team and their accomplishments.
"It's been an honor to represent the corp, and my gender, but the entire force,” Masson said.
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