15 November 2008

Thumbs Up For A Four-Star Uppity Woman, Sir!

At a Pentagon promotion ceremony yesterday, Ann E. Dunwoody ascended to a peak never before reached by a woman in the U.S. military: four-star general, the U.S. army's highest rank.* By law, the Army is limited to 11 active-duty four-stars.

Through the Brass Ceiling

Ann E Dunwoody is now head of the Army Material Command, in charge of weapons, equipment and uniforms for the army. There's a lot of that stuff about.

She said she had never expected to rise so high in the ranks in her career.

In the U.S. army, there are 21 female generals, most of them one-star. The first female one-star was named in 1970, the first two-star in 1978 and the first three-star in 1996. Women make up 14% of the army's active-service strength of more than 500,000 soldiers.

Behind every successful woman there's an astonished man

"There is no one more surprised than I, except of course, my husband," she told an auditorium packed with the military's top brass.

Gen Dunwoody is married to Ret. Air Force Col. Craig Brotchie (on her right in the video below).

Gen. Ann Dunwoody takes over her service's Material Command amid efforts to repair, upgrade and replace huge amounts of weapons, vehicles and gear used in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview with Defence News, she says she plans to build on wartime advances in the way the service tracks, stores and manages its equipment. She's pretty sanguine about it. The U.S. taxpayer, maybe, less so.

A member of Dunwoody's family has served in every American war since the Revolution. Her 89-year-old father, Ret. Brig. General Harold H. Dunwoody, served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and earned two Purple Hearts. Her niece just returned from a tour in Afghanistan as an Air Force pilot. And her brother-in-law was an Air Force veteran.

Not eligible to attend the then all-male U.S. Military Academy -- like her brothers, father, grandfather and great-grandfather -- Dunwoody graduated from the State University of New York and was commissioned into the Women's Army Corps in 1975.

"So I went down to Fort McClellan as a college junior for six weeks of training. It was kind of exciting. Truly, I thought this would be a two-year detour en route to my teaching profession, but I was also excited that someone was going to pay me to jump out of airplanes. Here we are, 33 years later."

So, what's it like to be the U.S. military's first female four-star general?

It is very humbling. I am very grateful to the generations of women who have gone before me and opened the doors through their determination and commitment. I keep telling people I have been so fortunate that I have worked for and with people who have given me opportunities throughout my career. You can be motivated and talented, but if people don't give you those opportunities, you may or may not be able to reach the potential that you have.

I know what she means. In 1975, an Army study found that both men and women in the military agreed the best role for a female soldier was as a cook.

Let's hear it for the cook!

When she was nominated as a four-star (a rank that must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate), Gen Dunwoody said:

“I grew up in a family that didn’t know what glass ceilings were. This nomination only reaffirms what I have known to be true about the military throughout my career, that the doors continue to open for men and women in uniform.”

Women soldiers throughout the crowd yesterday cheered, some as they wiped tears of joy. Gen Dunwood needs to be an inspiration for girls out there, too. Let's make sure that girls hear the news:

Yes, you can!

But the closet door is still closed for gays. Now, isn't it time that those doors opened as well?

* the "five-star general" or General of the Army is reserved for war-time use only and is not currently used in the 21st century U.S. military.

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