Ruth Anderson doesn’t just lead as the Occoquan District Supervisor, she also passionately advocates for others to get involved in county government and work their way into leadership roles.
Her drive began in an early and uncharacteristic manner, a byproduct of growing up in rural Alaska. Running the family’s twelve-dog team up and down the Yukon River wasn’t out of the norm for Anderson. “For us it was an everyday type of experience,” she recalls. “Mushing a dog team is a huge lesson in leadership, because you have to lead those dogs when they want to lead you.”
Military Experience and Humanitarian Aid
Watching her mother administer medical services in areas with little or no health care convinced Ruth early on to pursue a career in nursing. Anderson’s family relocated from Alaska to Minnesota, where she obtained her nursing degree and joined the United States Air Force. “I was so sure I could get sent to Alaska,” Anderson says, as she’d hoped to return to the communities of her youth to provide much needed health care. Her supervisors told her that they didn’t send new military nurses to Alaska as it was considered overseas and too much of a cultural shock. Instead, the Alaskan-born Anderson was transferred to Biloxi, Mississippi.
With the initial intent of serving only three years in the Air Force, Anderson soon found that the combination of nursing and the military environment both contributed to her leadership sensibilities. “You are expected to lead those that are maybe below you in rank or less experienced. It’s immediate.” Having found her niche, the three-year stint turned into a twenty-one year career. Of her time in the military, Anderson says, “We were on a mission and I loved being on that mission and taking care of the troops.”
New assignments within the Air Force brought with them opportunities for advancement. Anderson went from staff nurse to charge nurse and eventually became a squadron commander and chief nurse at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. After twenty-one years of service, Anderson retired from the Air Force, but continued to put her skills to use by assisting in the aftermath of war and natural disasters, traveling on fifteen different missions to administer aid in countries including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
Leadership at the Local Level
When the position of Occoquan District Supervisor opened up, Anderson was encouraged to pursue it. “This wasn’t exactly on my bucket list,” she admits, though she’d been no stranger to politics, having a politician husband and being involved in the campaigns of others. “I’d helped many people get elected.” Still, Anderson needed to be persuaded. “I said ‘no’ a few times before I said ‘yes,’ but I am so glad that I did because it opens up so many opportunities to help people.”
As Occoquan District Supervisor, Anderson’s leadership skills are employed in managing the county budget and land use issues. Setting the tax rate and deciding how much money goes to schools is a great responsibility. “We make decisions that affect everyone that lives in the county,” she says.
Call to Action
Facing countless challenges and an initial learning curve never dissuaded Anderson from the position. She encourages others to get involved as well, citing the value of figuring out what it is you stand for and then taking action that supports those core beliefs. Citizens can intern with the county, serve on boards or committees, or seek out civic associations. Anderson asserts that these opportunities are for everyone. “If they come to my office, I will find a niche for them to get involved.” She also encourages people to advocate for their candidates of choice until they feel comfortable running for office themselves.
Strength in Pride
While Anderson enjoys her leadership role as the Occoquan District Supervisor, she also still takes great pride in her service with the United States Air Force. “I will do anything to save our country and the freedoms we have,” Anderson asserts. With that pride and leadership, and through positive example, she hopes to inspire others to do the same.
Ruth Anderson welcomes emails at firstname.lastname@example.org and looks forward to assisting citizens in identifying roles in which they can affect positive change.