WASHINGTON – Call it breaking the brass ceiling. Ann E. Dunwoody, after 33 years in the Army, ascended Friday 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 1966 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 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.