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New York State Division of Military and
Naval Affairs

Colonel Stephanie Dawson, First Woman to Lead the Harlem Hellfighters

December 29, 2009
by Isabel Cowles
On November 16, 2008, Col. Stephanie Dawson was named commander of the 369th Sustainment Brigade, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, a National Guard unit renowned for its remarkable service during World War I.

Stephanie Dawson became the first female brigade commander in New York National Guard history when she was appointed to lead the legendary Harlem Hellfighters. Dawson took over the 369th Sustainment Brigade from the previous commander, Col. Kevin McKiernan.

Dawson graduated in 2007 from the Army War College. According to The New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, she also attended the Army’s Command and General Staff College, and the Combined Arms and Services School.

In addition to her involvement with the New York National Guard, Dawson is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and works as assistant director of operations for the chief operating officer of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Dawson has won numerous awards for her service in Iraq, including the Bronze Star and the National Defense Service Medal.

Dawson’s life membership with the 369th Historical Society complements her appointment as commander of the 369th Sustainment Brigade. The Brigade, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, is a unit of the Army National Guard. The Hellfighters trace their origins to the 15th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, created in 1916 as an all African-American unit. In May 1918, the brigade was stationed to fight in French trenches against German troops.

The Harlem Hellfighters endured 191 days of combat during World War I, which was more than any other American unit experienced in the war, according to a historical report by the National Archives and Records Administration. At war’s end, the unit received a Croix de Guerre from the French army for its efforts, and 171 officers and men received individual awards. 

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