Monday, June 30, 2008


On June 23, the Pentagon announced the nomination of Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody to the rank of four-star general, making her -- pending congressional approval -- the first woman to achieve the distinction.

While this is an exciting advancement for Dunwoody and all women, I'd like to point something out. The Army had a chance to show that women can do any job that men can. They had a chance to make a real statement about equal opportunity. So what did they put their first woman four-star general in charge of?


Yeah, that's right. Gen. Dunwoody will have control of one of the world's biggest credit card accounts as head of the Army Materiel Command. For some, this may conjure up visions of buying lots of boots and lovely camo ensembles, but Materiel Command also, of course, supplies potatoes and tanks and artillery, and moves all those tons of stuff around the world in an amazing display of organization and energy.

So why couldn't the Army have put her in charge of something a bit more... combative? Like, say, the U.S. Intercontinental Butt-Kicking Command (USINTBUKICOM)?

Well, it's partly because the law (still) says that women can't engage in combat. General Dunwoody has had a highly distinguished career in logistics, providing the vital supplies that an army needs to clothe itself, brush its teeth, and fight its battles. But she hasn't been allowed to participate directly in those battles. (Not that it's stopped her from earning a Master Parachutist badge, or serving with the 82nd Airborne in Saudi Arabia in the Gulf War).

Since combat commands are the traditional path to full general, it may not be surprising that it's taken so long for a woman to get there. In a way, it also makes Dunwoody's promotion particularly impressive. I guess the Army just couldn't ignore her 33-year record of excellence in leadership any longer. The Pentagon says there are 57 active-duty female generals in the U.S. military, and five of them wear three stars. Clearly, more doors are open to women, although the door to the 4-star level still has a tough lock to pick.

Now, working in Materiel Command doesn't mean it's a day at the mall, by any means, for women or men. As of this date, 98 American women have died in Iraq from hostile action and non-hostile incidents. So, not to put too fine a point on it, but women can die just like men, even though they aren't at the very top of the chain of combat command. Not yet, at least.

Could a woman become Commander-in-Chief before a four-star female commands combat troops? Or before women fight in combat? It's very possible.

Someday a woman will take command of USINTBUKICOM.

Until then, mens' and womens' lives will depend on a woman's command of the world's largest logistical operation, and when in-theatre, that woman will be dodging bullets just like everyone else.

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