In January, the Pentagon lifted a ban on women in combat. Coach, leader, and four-star U.S. Army General Ann Dunwoody says this policy change is a recognition of women's roles on the battlefield today. "When I look back at how far we've come, it's really amazing," says Ann. "I'm very proud of that."
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With her father in the military, Ann grew up in a military-centered family. As a tomboy, Ann participated in as many sports as she could, like gymnastics, tennis, and cheerleading. She went to college hoping to become a physical education teacher, but while in school, she applied for an Army program that offered scholarships in exchange for two years of service. She thought of it as a small detour on her path to becoming a coach and teacher.
Ann was sent to the airborne school. "All I wanted to do was jump out of airplanes," she says. It came as a surprise to Ann when she decided to stay in the Army after her two years were up. She went on to make a career out of it as one of the first women to serve in a co-ed army. She says the women joining the Army at the same time were driven to help integrate men and women and to become leaders of co-ed platoons. While she never had a female boss, she says she was blessed to have male coaches throughout her career who gave her the opportunities to succeed.
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In 2008, Ann was promoted to four-star general. She was the first woman to earn the title. Ann says she almost fell out of her chair when they told her, and she wasn't prepared for the encouragement and praise that followed with letters and cards from men, women, veterans, and even kids. "I must have written 50 letters a night, responding back," she says.
This past year, Ann retired form the Army to spend more time with family and to write a book about her experiences. "I never, even from day one when I joined the Army, dreamed I would be in it for 38 years," Ann says. "I had a wonderful journey. I wouldn't trade one bit of it."
To achieve success, Ann says to stick to your principles and to have courage to do what you believe in. "When you run into resistance, you can either give up and let the bureaucracy win, or you have to fight the bureaucracy," she explains, "and that takes a lot of personal energy and intellect. To change is not easy, and sometimes it requires change to do the right thing for the right reason."
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