Call it breaking the brass ceiling. Ann 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, 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 crowd.
“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 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.
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 during a speech in which she said she only recently realized how much her accomplishment means to others.
“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.” She said she's heard from moms and dads who see her promotion as a beacon of hope for their own daughters and affirmation that anything is possible through hard work and commitment.
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 soldiers. Just five months ago, she became the first female deputy commander there.
Dunwoody's first assignment was to Fort Sill, as supply platoon leader in 1976, and she remained at Sill until she was sent to quartermaster officer school at Fort Lee, Va., in 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, where she was the 82nd Airborne Division's first female battalion commander. She has several decorations, including the Distinguished Service and Defense Superior Service medals.