Tuesday, June 24, 2008

First Female Four-Star General Nominated by President Bush

The June 24th Wall Street Journal carried this blurb in the front-page What’s News column: A woman has been chosen for promotion to the rank of four-star general for the first time in American history.

For someone whose novel features the wives of four new army officers in the spring of 1970 and who was there at the beginning of the women’s movement, this was a rather exciting headline.

The Journal article itself described that President Bush had nominated Lt. General Ann E. Dunwoody to head the Army Materiel Command, of which she is currently deputy commander. I have to admit that, as a feminist, I was somewhat disappointed in General Dunwoody’s area of operation -- which equips, outfits and arms the soldiers of the U.S. Army.

Then this article paragraph really rankled: Women haven’t reached four-star rank because by law they are excluded from serving in combat roles, which historically have been the path to the highest-ranking positions. That exclusion still applies, but with Gen. Dunwood, the Army has chosen to cast aside its customary limitations on promotion.

Yes, army promotions based on combat roles have always been important. In MRS. LIEUTENANT in the spring of 1970 Sharon Gold learns this when she has just arrived at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, with her husband. Sharon’s next-door neighbor Anne takes Sharon to meet Elizabeth, another young officer’s wife in the same offbase apartment complex:

A large wall-hung wedding portrait in a gilt frame overpowers the small living room. Elizabeth in a Scarlett O'Hara gown and her husband in his army uniform stand together under crossed swords.

Elizabeth follows Sharon's eyes. "Mama said I had to bring it. Wouldn't be a proper home without it. I also brought my silver. An officer's lady has to be ready to assume her duties."

Anne laughs. "Can you tell she's a Southerner? Even if she didn’t have an accent. These Southerners are in love with the 'noble duty' of the army – that's why so many officers are Southern – even if it means going to Vietnam."

There, someone has said the word -- Vietnam.

Elizabeth smiles. "How can a man get ahead in the army if he hasn't had at least one combat command? If my husband decides to go regular army – make the army a career, he has to get ahead."

Sharon mentally runs through any number of responses to this statement. No words leave her mouth. She has promised Robert.

Today, in my opinion, it might be better for both men and women not to need combat roles in order to be considered for promotion to the highest-ranking positions. This then might allow the Army to give out assignments not based on who needs combat experience but instead give out assignments based on the best person for the position.

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