Promotion makes Wilz first female general in N.D. Army National Guard
BISMARCK – After she rose to the rank of captain in 1993, Giselle Wilz’s father assured her that she would someday be the first female general in the North Dakota Army National Guard.
“He just somehow knew. I think early on, I wasn’t sure. I just loved the Guard and loved serving and wearing the uniform,” she said. “It wasn’t until probably the last 10 or 12 years that I really aspired to be a general.”
Her father’s prediction will come true Wednesday when Wilz is promoted from colonel to brigadier general during a 2:30 p.m. ceremony at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.
The Richardton native, who goes by the nickname “Gigi,” will be the Army National Guard’s first female general. She already was its first female colonel, a rank to which her father, Charles Wilz, who had retired as a colonel after 38 years in the Guard, promoted her to in 2008 shortly before he died from cancer.
“That’s probably my biggest regret for tomorrow is that he did not live to see this,” she said Tuesday.
Wilz began her 32-year career with the Army National Guard in 1983, enlisting with the 191st Military Police Company in Mandan while still in high school. She earned her commission as a second lieutenant in 1986 and has held various leadership roles with the Guard, most recently as chief of staff for 21 months.
The 48-year-old will leave this month for a one-year tour in Bosnia, where she will primarily work with local officials on defense reform and also command NATO forces operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It will be her second deployment to the Balkans, the first being a stint in 2009-10 in Kosovo.
Wilz also served in the Gulf War from September 1990 through July 1991 as one of two water operations officers with the 132nd Quartermaster Company. She was only 23 years old and fresh out of Officer Candidate School when Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Macdonald, North Dakota’s adjutant general at the time, asked her if she was going to volunteer for the tour, she recalled.
“You say, ‘Yes sir,’ and you drive on,” she said.
Unbeknownst to her, Macdonald had already contacted her father out of respect and recognition of the family’s extensive involvement in the Guard, said her oldest brother, Greg Wilz.
“And he said, ‘Chuck, I don’t have a choice. I have to send your daughter to war,’” he said.
Indeed, the Army National Guard has been a family affair for the Wilzes.
Greg Wilz is a retired colonel who served as a battalion commander and director of operations during his 29-year career. He was appointed director of the state’s Homeland Security Division in January 2006 and has worked with his sister in their separate command roles.
“I can tell you the family is extremely proud of her accomplishments,” he said. “Her getting promoted is kind of a pinnacle to all she’s done in her military career.”
Older brother Gary Wilz retired as a Guard major, and younger brother Grant Wilz still serves as a lieutenant colonel. Two other siblings, Guy and Gwen, aren’t in the Guard – “not to say they haven’t served right along every deployment and everything the rest of us have done,” Gigi Wilz said.
Her mother, Marilyn, who will attend Wednesday’s ceremony, supported her husband and children as they were deployed all over the world.
“Sometimes I think her job was harder than everybody else’s,” she said.
An estimated 17 percent of North Dakota Army and Air National Guard members are female, and Wilz said being the Army Guard’s first female general “feels a little surreal.”
“But it’s also great to represent the soldiers of the Army National Guard and be a role model as best I can,” she said.