WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army promoted the first female to four-star general in its history Friday in an emotion-laden ceremony that sparked hopes among women that the role for female troops will continue to expand.
Gen. Ann Dunwoody's elevation to the pinnacle of the officer corps was the culmination of a protracted fight by women. The military named its first female one-star in 1970, the first two-star in 1978 and the first three-star in 1996.
Women currently are not allowed to serve in ground combat, limiting their command options and roles in wartime. Instead, women have risen through the military ranks through career paths like nursing, intelligence and logistics.
Dunwoody's standing-room-only ceremony in the Pentagon auditorium drew the military's highest ranked officers. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, presided, and three-star generals had to stand in the back because all the seats were taken.
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After Dunwoody's husband, Ret. Air Force Col. Craig Brotchie, and Casey pinned four stars on each shoulder of her uniform, women soldiers throughout the crowd cheered, some as they wiped tears of joy.
Dunwoody, 55, said she was humbled and overwhelmed by the distinction.
"When people ask me, Ann, did you ever think you were going to be a general officer, say nothing about a four-star, I say not in my wildest dreams," she said.
She later quipped: "There is no one more surprised than I — except my husband. And you know what they say: Behind every successful woman is an astonished man."
Casey acknowledged that the naming of the military's first female four-star general took "probably longer than it should have," but he called Friday's promotion something the "entire Army can celebrate and take pride in."
Afterward at Fort Belvoir, Va., the base where she was born, Dunwoody was sworn in as commander of the Army Materiel Command, which equips and outfits soldiers.
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. All were at Friday's ceremony.
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.
An Army study at the time found that both men and women in the military agreed the best role for a female soldier was as a cook, Casey told the audience.
But Dunwoody's 33-year Army career was peppered with military firsts. She was the first woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division. She was also the first woman general officer at Fort Bragg. And she was among the Army's first female three-star generals.
The Senate confirmed her four-star rank in July.
There are currently 21 female general officers in the Army and nearly 60 throughout the military. And Dunwoody said that while she was the first, she will not be the last female four-star general.
"The bench is deep," Dunwoody said.
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