The career of Ann E. Dunwoody ascended Friday from humble beginnings 33 years ago at Fort Sill, Okla., to a peak never before reached by a woman in the U.S. military: four-star general.
At an emotional promotion ceremony, Dunwoody added a fourth star and, looking back on her years in uniform, said it was a credit to the Army that she was given a chance to rise through the ranks 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. "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.'"
Later, at Fort Belvoir, Va. — her birthplace — Dunwoody was being sworn in as commander of the Army Materiel Command, responsible for equipping, outfitting and arming all soldiers. Just five months ago, she became the first female deputy commander there.
A little discomfort
Dunwoody, 55, has made it clear that she feels no need for special acclaim for her historic achievement.
"The recognition makes her a little bit uncomfortable from the standpoint of the gender aspect — that we're making a big deal (that) she is the first female general officer," Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday in announcing that Defense Secretary Robert Gates would attend her promotion ceremony.
When she was nominated by President Bush in June for promotion to four-star rank, Dunwoody issued a statement saying she was humbled.
"I grew up in a family that didn't know what glass ceilings were," she said. "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."
She also told an internal Army publication that "while I may be the first, I know I won't be the last."
Her nomination was confirmed by the Senate in July.
21 female Army generals
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.
Dunwoody received her Army commission after graduating from the State University of New York in 1975.
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.
She has numerous decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal and Defense Superior Service Medal.