In these times, it is “Great to be a Girl”…and then some

Dunwoody Promotion Video

Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody

The story coming from WASHINGTON  by Robert Burns – The Associated Press

– Call it breaking the brass ceiling. Ann E. Dunwoody, after 33 years in the Army, ascended November 14, 2008 to a peak never before reached by a woman in the U.S. military: four-star general. At an emotional promotion ceremony, Dunwoody looked back on her years in uniform and said it was a credit to the Army – and a great surprise to her – that she would make history in a male-dominated military.

“Thirty-three years after I took the oath as a second lieutenant, I have to tell you this is not exactly how I envisioned my life unfolding,” she told a standing-room-only auditorium crowd. “Even as a young kid, all I ever wanted to do was teach physical education and raise a family.

“It was clear to me that my Army experience was just going to be a two-year detour en route to my fitness profession,” she added. “So when asked, `Ann, did you ever think you were going to be a general officer, to say nothing about a four-star?’ I say, `Not in my wildest dreams.’

“There is no one more surprised than I – except, of course, my husband. You know what they say, `Behind every successful woman there is an astonished man.’ “

In an Associated Press interview after the ceremony, Gen. George Casey, the Army’s chief of staff, said that if there is one thing that distinguishes Dunwoody it is her lifetime commitment to excelling in uniform.

“If you talk to leaders around the Army and say, `What do you think about Ann Dunwoody?’ almost unanimously you get: `She’s a soldier,'” Casey said, adding that he admires the fact that, “she’s a soldier first.”

Dunwoody, 55, hails from a family of military men dating back to the 1800s. Her father, 89-year-old Hal Dunwoody – a decorated veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam – was in the audience, along with the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, plus the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Dunwoody, whose husband, Craig Brotchie, served for 26 years in the Air Force, choked up at times during a speech in which she said she only recently realized how much her accomplishment means to others.

“This promotion has taken me back in time like no other event in my entire life,” she said. “And I didn’t appreciate the enormity of the events until tidal waves of cards, letters, and e-mails started coming my way.

“And I’ve heard from men and women, from every branch of service, from every region of our country, and every corner of the world. I’ve heard from moms and dads who see this promotion as a beacon of home for their own daughters and after affirmation that anything is possible through hard work and commitment.

“And I’ve heard from women veterans of all wars, many who just wanted to say congratulations; some who just wanted to say thanks; and still others who just wanted to say they were so happy this day had finally come.”

In remarks opening Dunwoody’s Pentagon ceremony, Defense Secretary Robert Gates underscored the tradition of military service in Dunwoody’s family, spanning five generations, beginning with her great-grandfather, Brig. Gen. Henry Harrison Chase Dunwoody, who graduated from West Point in 1866 and was the chief signal officer in Cuba from 1898 to 1901.

“As she’s been known to say, olive drab runs in her veins,” Gates said.

Later Friday, at Fort Belvoir, Va. – her birthplace – Dunwoody was sworn in as commander of the Army Materiel Command, responsible for equipping, outfitting and arming all U.S. soldiers across the globe. Just five months ago, she became the first female deputy commander there.

Dunwoody was nominated by President George W. Bush in June for promotion to four-star rank, and she was confirmed by the Senate in July.

There are 21 female general officers in the Army – all but four at the one-star rank of brigadier. It was not until 1970 that the Army had its first one-star: Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

Women now make up about 14 percent of the active-duty Army and are allowed to serve in a wide variety of assignments. They are still excluded from units designed primarily to engage in direct combat, such as infantry and tank units, but their opportunities have expanded over the past two decades.

At a Pentagon news conference following her promotion ceremony, Dunwoody was asked whether she believed women should be allowed to serve in the infantry and whether women’s role in the Army should otherwise be expanded.

“I don’t have a personal view on it,” she replied. “I think we have a law that precludes that (serving in the infantry) right now, and we are in compliance with that law. If that law needs to be revisited, I think we have a deliberate process to do that.”


Dunwoody, 55, who comes from a family of high-ranking military men dating back to the 19th century, is now the highest ranking woman ever in any branch of the military.

Born in 1953 at Fort Belvoir, Va., and growing up a military “brat,” Dunwoody until yesterday was the service’s second highest ranking woman. She will head up U.S. Army Materiel Command.

Dunwoody was commissioned in 1975 after graduating from State University of New York at Cortland in 1975. She also holds two masters degrees.


Her first assignment was to Fort Sill, as supply platoon leader in June 1976, and she remained at Sill in various positions until she was sent to quartermaster officer school at Fort Lee, Va., in July 1980.

She later served in Germany and Saudi Arabia.

After graduating from the Command and General Staff College in 1987, she was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where she became the 82nd Airborne Division’s first female battalion commander.


Among her many military decorations are the Distinguished Service Medal, several Meritorious Service Medals, Kuwait Liberation Medals from service during Desert Storm, and a master parachutist badge.

Until Dunwoody pinned on her fourth star, the top woman officer in the military was recognized to be:

Coast Guard Vice. Adm. Viven S. Crea, a three-star flag officer since 2006.

Some, however, can argue that Crea remains at the top by virtue of her position as Coast Guard vice-commandant, which makes her second in command overall of that service.

With her husband, a 26-year Air Force veteran looking on, Dunwoody, a 33 year veteran, ascended to the peak military rank 41 years after general and flag ranks were opened to women.

Prior to 1967, the highest rank women could attain was colonel. In 1970, Anna May Hays became the first woman to earn the star of a brigadier general when she became chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

Women from all branches of the military began making three-star rank in the mid to late 1990s, and it has continued into the “double noughts.”

The first woman to reach three-star rank in the U.S. armed forces was now-retired Marine Lt. Gen. Carol A. Mutter in 1996.

The first woman soldier to reach that rank was Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy in 1997, who retired three years later after 31 years of service.

Vice Adm. Patricia Ann Tracey, who retired in 2004, was the Navy’s first vice admiral.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Leslie Kenne, who retired in 2003, in 1999 became that service’s first woman three-star general.

The Army Times has a fantastic interview with Gen. Ann Dunwoody that is available to read here: