Dunwoody Becomes First Woman Four-Star General
(November 16, 2008)
Photo by U.S. Navy
Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess
||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 (middle of photo) 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
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
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
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
Still, Dunwoody was quick to deflect the attention her accomplishments were
“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
“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,”
That led to the fourth and final standing ovation for Dunwoody at the ceremony.
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
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