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, Gen. 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 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.’”
Gen. Dunwoody hails from a family of military men dating back to the 1800s. Her father, 89-year-old Adm. Michael Mullen.
Her husband, Craig Brotchie, who served 26 years in the Air Force, was choked up at times during her speech.
“This promotion has taken me back in time like no other event in my entire life,” Gen. Dunwoody 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 hope for their own daughters and an 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 other who just wanted to say they were so happy this day had finally come.”
Gen. Dunwoody has been 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.
Gen. Dunwoody, 55, has made it clear that she feels no need for special acclaim for her historic achievement.
When she was nominated by President Bush in June for promotion to four-star rank, she issued a statement saying she was humbled.
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.
Gen. Dunwoody received her commission after graduating from the State University of New York in 1975. She has numerous decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal and Defense Superior Service Medal.