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Suffolk native takes command in Alaska

Allison T. Williams

A Suffolk native made Alaskan military history on Friday.

Maj. Katrina Pillow, 36, took over the reins of the 297th Support Battalion of the Alaska Army National Guard, becoming the first black woman ever to command a battalion in the state’s guard.

“I’m excited,” said Pillow, who started with the battalion in 1994. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to lead these soldiers, and it’s a real honor to grow up in that battalion and then take it to the next level.

“It feels great to have this opportunity. It’s all about having goals and striving to reach them.”

As commander of the 297th, Pillow will oversee more than 550 soldiers, said Christine Nangle, a National Guard spokeswoman. Many members of the unit are scheduled to ship to Iraq and Afghanistan this summer with the largest deployment in Alaska Army National Guard history.

“Maj. Pillow is a complete asset to the Alaska National Guard,” Nangle said. “She has proven time and again through her leadership skills and talent that she is more than ready to take on this position.”

Pillow, who is the daughter of the late Ronneld D. Gardener and Julpenia K. Gardener, spent most of her early years in Suffolk. She belongs to Laurel Hill United Church of Christ in Suffolk.

Her grandparents, Katie and Johnnie Knight, and several other relatives still live in the Holland area.

Pillow moved to Tennessee when she was in the sixth grade, where she graduated from high school in 1987 and joined the Army Reserves in 1989. While in college, she participated in the Reserve Officer Training Course at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

Pillow, who holds master’s degrees in health administration and human resources from the University of La Verne in California, joined the Alaska National Guard in 1994.

She and her husband, 1st Lt. Robert L. Pillow III, have two children, Robert, 12 and Sarena, 8.

Pillow says she would like to set an example for today’s youth.

“It’s so important for kids to realize the importance of getting a good education, doing the best they can in school and having a good attitude,” she said. “As long as you do that, the only limits you face will be the one you set for yourself.”

Allison.williams@suffolknewsherald.com