Class: 1982Inducted: 2016
Colonel Valerie D. Echols grew up in Boston Way Village and began her education in Asbury Park at Bangs Avenue School. During her four years at the Asbury Park High School, she was a cheerleader and a Varsity Scholar. Upon graduating in 1982, she attended Rutgers College where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. This is also where she started her military career, attending Military Science courses in the Rutgers ROTC program. Upon graduation from Rutgers, Valerie achieved recognition as a Distinguished Military Graduate and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Finance Branch of the U.S. Army Reserves. Colonel Echols continued her education at Monmouth University where she achieved her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in 2002.
For over 29 years, Valerie has served as a commissioned officer in the 78th Training Division. Among the many positions that she has held, Valerie has served as Company Commander, Master Fitness Trainer, Finance Officer, Comptroller, and Adjutant General. In 2005, Valerie was mobilized for a five-year active duty tour, serving as the Division Finance Officer and Deputy Comptroller, in support Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom. Currently, she is part of the Commanding General’s Special Staff, serving as the 78th Division Program Manager for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) and Equal Opportunity (EO) programs.
Valerie is well decorated with military awards which include: Meritorious Service Medal (2nd award), Army Commendation Medal (3rd award), Army Achievement Medal (3rd Award), National Defense Service Medal (2nd award), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
In addition to being in the military, Valerie has also enjoyed a successful 28-year career as a civilian, with the New York Blood Center, where she held various positions, culminating into the position of Senior Manager of Logistics. She now works for Workforce Opportunity Services, supporting the mission of providing Veterans and underserved populations with education opportunities and career opportunities in top tier organizations throughout the United States.
In 2014, Valerie accepted an Adjunct Instructor’s position with Brookdale Community College, where she teaches Micro- and Macroeconomics. Her total approach to teaching not only ensures her students have a firm understanding of Economics, but also addresses topics geared towards lifting self-esteem to help her students achieve peak performance.
Valerie is married to Robert T. Gardner, Jr. They have three children, Taylor 15, Isaiah 5, and Sojourner 2. Valerie knows that anything is possible if you believe. She had her first child, her son Isaiah, at the age of 46, and her daughter Sojourner at 48. For her, the birth of her children, is by far, her greatest accomplishment and her greatest blessing.
Valerie’s favorite quote, inspired by her husband and author, Robert T. Gardner, Jr."Life comes down to the choices we make."