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General Ann E. Dunwoody Four Star Role Model

How does a little girl grow up to be a four-star general?  In fact, the very first female four-star general in American history? So often we think there is a ‘proven formula,’ one that typically includes growing up in the proper environment, having a dream and vision, and then following a well-planned strategy.

Well, interesting enough, even though General Ann Dunwoody grew up in a military family with four generations of West Pointers (brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather), she had no intention of ever joining the Army. As far back as Dunwoody can remember, all she wanted was to major in physical education and coach.

 The Proven Formula Gone Awry

Ann E. Dunwoody was born an ‘army brat’ in Northern Virginia in the triumphant glow of post-World War II America. Her father, a career army officer, soon moved the family to Germany and Belgium where they participated in the post-war reconstruction of the largely decimated European continent.

That’s when the ‘proven formula’ went a little awry. In her formative years, Dunwoody wanted nothing to do with the military, instead moving her life in the direction of her love of sports, physical fitness and coaching. Perhaps that’s the derivation of the word “brat?” After all, as stated, every generation of her family had served in the military since the Civil War.

For perspective, it was the tumultuous 60s and the ‘generation of peace and love’ became known for its rebellious nature. The ‘British Invasion’ (rock and roll’s version), which would soon ignite the American youth revolution, landed first on the shores of Germany when the Beatles visited Hamburg in 1960 to play 48 concerts over two months. It was a test run before they would thoroughly transform America’s cultural landscape. While Dunwoody professes to be a lifelong Beatles fan, she was still only seven at the time and didn’t fall victim to the ‘mania’ that would ensue. The ‘proven formula’ still had a life.

In Germany, Dunwoody attended Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe American High School. After graduating ‘Supreme High’ in 1971, she was back in the states pursuing a physical education degree at SUNY (Cortland). Always an athlete at heart, she participated in several team sports including tennis, gymnastics and track. This was before ‘Title IX’ and there were no sports scholarships offered to women so she competed solely for the love of sports. She recalls the time fondly by saying, “I learned as much from losing as from winning. And importantly, I learned about building teams and building confidence.” These learned skills would soon come in handy.

An ‘Army introductory program’ in her junior year, followed by a ‘Woman’s Officer Orientation Course’ helped pay the tuition. The program came with a two-year commitment to the Quartermaster Corp, and by 1975 she was in uniform and jumping from airplanes. Maybe an underlying ‘proven formula’ had been in the works all along?

“I planned to stay in the Army only to complete my two-year commitment,” she recalls, “but it wasn’t too long before I realized there are no other boots I’d rather fill than the ones I am wearing right now. As a soldier you can continually serve. It is a calling to be a soldier and there is a great sense of pride and camaraderie in serving the greatest Army in the world.”

What she realized much later in life is that, “I really did end up fulfilling my childhood dream, I just did it in a different profession, in a different classroom. I ending up coaching thousands of men and women on and off the battlefield in a very physically demanding endeavor – the United States Army.”

As was written by 18thcentury Scotsman, Robert Burns, and made more notable by author John Steinbeck’s iconic American novel, (with a modest editor’s adjustment), “the best laid plans of mice, men, and career army families often go awry, but not in this case.”  We would posit that her destiny had been in place from the very beginning and that Dunwoody’s ‘best laid plans,’ while not necessarily laid out ahead of time, turned out quite nicely nonetheless.

The Logistical Decision

The dictionary tells us that ‘logistics’ is “the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies.” For large institutions, both in the private and public sectors, this is a critically important, multi-billion dollar matter.  Just ask FedEx, UPS and Amazon, to name three. With Army bases and troops deployed all over the globe, and instantaneous decisions to change course often needed, that goes double-time for the U.S. Army. Just ask General Ann E. Dunwoody.

Early in her career, she decided that participating in the massive responsibility of managing the Army’s global infrastructure would be her preferred pathway.

These duties include Command Headquarter locations, troop housing and movement, supplies, equipment, weaponry, maintenance, budgets, purchasing, and many other functions.

One of Dunwoody’s leadership mantras is to “never stop learning, growing, adapting,” and here’s tangible evidence that she’s less a talker and more a doer. While serving, she earned a Master of Science Degree in Logistics Management from the Florida Institute of Technology (1988), followed by a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (1995). Just some modest resume padding along the ‘proven formula’ way.

A Four-Star Career 

In more than thirty–seven years as a Quartermaster Corp officer, Dunwoody’s register of groundbreaking commands and achievements is far too copious to list. A few of the highlights include:

  • Parachute officer and the first woman to command a battalion in the 82ndAirborne Division (1992).
  • Strategic planner for the Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA).
  • Assigned to forts (bases) in North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Oklahoma and Germany.
  • Deployed to Saudi Arabia in ‘Operations Desert Shield and Storm’ (1990), and the Logistics Task Force in ‘Operation Enduring Freedom 1,’ in the wake of 9-11. Later, as Commander of the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), she supported the largest deployment and redeployment of U.S. forces since World War II.
  • Became the Army’s top-ranking female when she received the promotion to lieutenant general (three stars), and also became the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, G-4 (2005).
  • Nominated as Commanding General, U.S. Army Materiel Command, by President George W. Bush on June 23, 2008, and confirmed by the Senate one month later. She served in that capacity until August 7, 2012.
  • On November 14, 2008, the icing was put on the cake of Dunwoody’s remarkable career in service to her nation when she became the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve the rank of four-star General. Her promotion ceremony was held at the Pentagon, with introductory speeches by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey.
  • In charge of all Army logistics, she managed the largest global supply chain command in history (69,000 military and civilians, located in all 50 states and more than 140 countries). She was also in charge of a $60 billion budget and oversaw in excess of $70 billion in service contracts.
  • Received more than two dozen separate service awards, badges and medals, including the ‘Army Distinguished Service Medal’ and the ‘Legion of Merit,’ before retiring on August 15, 2012.

As you can imagine, General Dunwoody is respected across the armed forces for her “remarkable clarity of thought and strategic vision.” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said, “Quite simply, Dunwoody is the best logistician the Army has ever had.”

A Higher Standard 

In 2015, Dunwoody released her well-regarded book, A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General, part memoir and part leadership training. “I really didn’t want to write a book,” she humbly says, “but after much persuasion I decided to offer some leadership strategies supported by vignettes from my life that contributed in some way to my success. They worked for me, and it was my hope that others would find them useful as well.”

Others have found them exceptionally “useful.” Various book reviews have enthusiastically noted that Dunwoody is, “an honest, empathetic leader, a straight shooter with old-fashioned values, and a champion of diversity, including of thought.”

The book’s focus is on leadership strategies that apply to everyone from grade school to four-star Generals, such as acknowledging and quickly dealing with mistakes (whether our own or others), and being willing to admit our weaknesses and get the support we need. The intent of the book is, she says, “to get people to dream big and try to make a difference, no matter what.” A central message is, “it’s not about being the best female anything, and it’s not about lowering standards, it’s just about being the best. I’ve watched doors open my entire career,” she continues, “some are opened for you and some you have to kick down. I believe if someone is qualified, and I mean fully qualified, they should be able to go through that door. We should be leveraging the power of diversity, both in people and in thought.”

In the end, what matters the most to Dunwoody is “family, self-discipline and personal responsibility.” She holds herself to a higher standard, a higher sense of duty, and recommends the same for others.

Mission: Retirement 

Since her retirement from active duty, Dunwoody has remained quite ‘active.’ She resides in Tampa, Florida with her husband, Col. Craig Brotchie, U.S. Air Force (ret.), who serves on the board of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Her sister also lives nearby in Tampa.They recently mourned the sudden loss of their brother, Buck, another Army veteran. She has joined several boards of directors, including defense company, L3, and travels the world with her husband making lecture and book-signing appearances for her many admirers.

General Dunwoody (ret.) still thinks often about her primary inspiration, her late father, Harold, the man we suspect had the original ‘proven formula.’ “My own personal hero is my dad,” she says. “He is a proud World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran, and he was a real soldier’s soldier. Much of who I am is founded on what I learned from my dad, as a soldier, as a patriot, and as a father.”

Whatever our dreams may be, here’s a final piece of advice from Dunwoody. “The bottom line for me is, if you let others dissuade you from something you want to do, something you believe you can do, something you’re passionate about, then they win. You can’t let that happen. You have to follow your passion and determine your own future.” And may we add, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.’

Congratulations to ‘four-star role model,’ General Ann E. Dunwoody, for a job supremely well done. We owe a profound debt of gratitude for her many years of exceptional service to our great nation, and we wish her many more. Click here to read General Dunwoody’s responses to our 7 Questions


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