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Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 –
For the first time in U.S. history, a woman military officer today pinned on the rank of four-star general.
Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody was promoted just hours before taking the helm of the Army Materiel Command, a Fortune 100-sized organization with nearly 130,000 servicemembers at 150 locations worldwide charged with equipping, outfitting and arming the service’s soldiers.
The emotionally charged promotion ceremony was a veritable “Who’s Who” within the Defense Department, as the defense secretary, the Army secretary, the chairman and all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two former Army chiefs of staff and other senior military officials attended.
The Pentagon auditorium was standing-room-only, leaving even a three-star general to fend for himself and stand in the back.
“We invited everyone but the fire marshal,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates quipped as he took the podium.
Speaking briefly, Gates heralded Dunwoody’s 33-year career, calling her one of the foremost military logisticians of her generation who’s known among senior officials as a proven, albeit humble, leader.
“History will no doubt take note of her achievement in breaking through this final brass ceiling to pin on a fourth star,” Gates said. “But she would rather be known and remembered, first and foremost, as a U.S. Army soldier.”
Dunwoody’s career as a soldier began, Gates pointed out, in the Women’s Army Corps and at a time when women were not allowed to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Her father and brother, both West Point graduates, sat in the front row of her promotion ceremony.
The general’s father graduated from the academy in 1943, following in the steps of his father, who graduated in 1905. Dunwoody’s great-grandfather graduated from West Point in 1866.
“Now you understand why people think I have olive-drab blood,” Dunwoody joked later.
In fact, Dunwoody’s father is a combat veteran of three wars and received Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. He wears the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross for valor.
In a speech that alternated from tears to laughter, Dunwoody credited her successes to her father’s teachings and the family’s strong military values.
“I know most of my success is founded in what I learned from you, as a dad, as a patriot and as a soldier,” she told her father, choking back tears. “Talk about never quitting. Talk about never accepting defeat. That’s my dad, my hero.”
Dunwoody said she has been fortunate to live a lifetime of firsts, and that the Army gave her those opportunities. The Army has mentored her, she said, and now she has been given the opportunity to return the favor.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. pointed out that, as Dunwoody was receiving her commission, the Army was finishing a study on what those serving thought were appropriate jobs for women in the Army.
The top job appropriate for women, according to officers and enlisted soldiers in 1975, was that of a cook. Dunwoody joined the Army’s quartermaster branch.
“That's the Army that Ann Dunwoody entered -- an institution just figuring out how to deal with the full potential of an all-volunteer Army, and not yet ready to leverage the strengths of each individual soldier in its ranks,” Casey said. “And Ann's career has mirrored our progress.”
In 1970, the Army promoted its first woman officer to brigadier general. Three years after Dunwoody was commissioned, the Army promoted its first woman to major general, and at the same time disbanded the Women’s Army Corps, which had its roots steeped in World War II. A year later, Dunwoody took command of a mixed-gender company, a relatively new concept in the Army. The first woman lieutenant general was promoted in 1997.
The Army now has 21 female general officers, and just more than 100 serve within the Defense Department.
Dunwoody first joined the Army intent on serving only two years, she said. Her success, she admitted, comes to her surprise.
“There is no one more surprised than I, except of course my husband. You know what they say -- behind every successful woman, there’s an astonished man,” she joked.
Her husband, Craig, who sat beside her on stage during the ceremony, is a retired Air Force colonel. They met while attending a military school together.
Dunwoody’s jokes seemed to relieve her nervousness and underscored her humility in the moment.
“It’s as overwhelming as it is humbling, especially for somebody who thought fifth grade was the best three years of her life,” she joked.
The general said at first she didn’t appreciate the enormity of the event. She has previously refused all requests for media interviews. Pentagon officials said Dunwoody was uncomfortable with the attention garnered when she was nominated to be the first woman four-star general.
Since then, Dunwoody said, she has received cards, letters, e-mails and encouragement from men and women serving in all branches of the military around the world -- many offering congratulations, others thanking her for her service.
In a briefing at the Pentagon later, Dunwoody said she never grew up believing any limitations were set for her career.
“I never grew up in an environment where I even heard of the words ‘glass ceiling,’" she said. “You could always be anything you wanted to be if you worked hard, and so I never felt constrained. I never felt like there were limitations on what I could do.”
And, because much of her career has been forged on relatively new paths cut by a handful of women having gone before her, Dunwoody at first saw this latest accomplishment as simply more of the same, she said.
“My whole career was kind of the first of my generation, because women had not been down those roads before,” she said. “And so you go, ‘Why is this first any different than the other first?’ But it is different, because it is a bigger first.”
Still, Dunwoody was quick to deflect the attention her accomplishments were receiving.
“While … I may be the first woman to achieve this honor, I know with certainty that I won’t be the last,” she said.
Now, at age 55 and with this promotion, Dunwoody said, she has finally realized her purpose.
“Even though I thought I was only coming in the Army for two years, I now know from the day I first donned my uniform, soldiering is all I ever wanted to do,” she said.
That led to the fourth and final standing ovation for Dunwoody at the ceremony.