March 17, 2011, VCSA remarks at Army Women in Transition Symposium and Hall of Fame Luncheon
April 12, 2011
Good afternoon - thank you. General Cody, Sir, as always, it is an honor to share the stage with you. General McWilliams, Ma'am, thank you for hosting this wonderful event and for your continued service to our Army and to the Nation.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to join you all in celebrating the countless, incredible achievements of women on behalf of our military and our Nation over the past 235-plus years. A study of history reveals a long and remarkable list of strong, smart, compassionate, and courageous female leaders. We can all learn much from their past examples; as well as from the example set by the extraordinary women who have followed in their footsteps, including many in this room.
During the two years I spent in Iraq, I saw firsthand the countless contributions made by women. And, it's important to recognize they were not back in some rear area. It doesn't exist on today's contiguous battlefields. Today, women are leading convoys and military police patrols... they're gathering and analyzing information and intelligence... they're serving as medics... crew chiefs... pilots. Many of you know Colonel Laura Richardson, Chief of the Army's Senate Liaison Division; she spent over a year in Iraq flying Blackhawk missions early on in the conflict.
The bravery routinely displayed by our female Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen is truly remarkable. There are numerous stories of courage and sacrifice over the past decade of war. And, I think it's important to point out that we're here celebrating women's contributions to our Army and to our Nation-not because they are new, in any way surprising, or somehow more impressive, but because they are made by women.
The reality is since the days of the Revolutionary War, women have repeatedly demonstrated their equal - and in many cases superior - abilities, both in aptitude and bravery.
How many here have heard of Paul Revere and his "Midnight Ride'" On the night of April 18th, 1775, Revere rode from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army-just hours before the battles of Lexington and Concord. Revere is widely celebrated as a patriot and as an American hero, and deservedly so.
Now, how many of you know Sybil Ludington'
Sybil's father, Colonel Henry Ludington was a mill owner in Patterson, New York; he volunteered to serve as the local militia commander as war with the British loomed. On April 26, 1777, he received word that the British were attacking Danbury, Connecticut and would soon reach New York. He needed to muster his troops from their farmhouses around the district, and warn the people of the countryside of possible British attack.
Colonel Ludington's 16-year-old daughter, Sybil volunteered to go. She traveled some 40 miles on horseback, in the middle of the night, in a rainstorm, on muddy roads, through towns and villages shouting that the British were burning Danbury and calling out the militia to assemble. Ultimately, they were able to stop the British advance and push them back to their boats, in the Battle of Ridgefield.
Sybil Ludington has been called, "The female Paul Revere." Yet, she rode more than twice the distance he did on his famous ride. Perhaps he should be referred to as "The male Sybil Ludington."
Needless to say, the selfless patriotism displayed by that young lady during the early days of the American Revolution has been demonstrated time and time again by women throughout history. And, I believe it deserves mention that many of them are also wives and mothers. When they're done with work for the day or after they return from a mission, there's very little opportunity to sit back and relax. There's dinner, homework, housework, comforting sons and daughters back home over Skype and a million other things. Women wrote the book on multi-tasking. And, I think their strength, resolve and genuine selflessness are a big part of what makes them such extraordinary leaders.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country." I think the same sentiment applies to running a unit, aid station or military operation.
Today, the U.S. Army Women's Foundation is inducting an extraordinary group of individuals into the Hall of Fame. All of them are pioneers who paved the way through unchartered territory; making it possible for others to follow in their footsteps.
The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps-later renamed the Women's Army Corps, was established in 1942. The approximately 150,000 American women who served in the WAAC and WAC during World War II represented the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army.
General Douglas MacArthur called them, "my best Soldiers," adding that they "worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men."
General Dwight D. Eisenhower said that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination [were] immeasurable."
General Eisenhower was clearly referring to Grace Mueller. Sergeant Major Mueller enlisted in the WAAC in 1942. She attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned in 1943. After a decade of service, she was discharged in 1952. But, she was not done. She re-enlisted and retired in 1973 as a Sergeant Major.
Sergeant Major Mueller-you are a great patriot; and, we are incredibly grateful for your many years of service; and, for the tremendous example you provide, not only for women, but for all who wear the uniform of our Nation. Thank you.
In a Time magazine article by Barbara Dolan published in May of 1980 and titled, "West Point: The Coed Class of '80," one male graduate described the integration of women as "the most traumatic thing that's happened since they took away the horses." Let's hope that young man never had to face anything truly distressing in his military career.
On the morning of July 7, 1976, 119 women joined the Corps of Cadets, thereby establishing the first class of females at the United States Military Academy. Of those, 62 graduated in May of 1980, becoming second lieutenants in the Army. Several of them are here today. And, certainly they can recount what that experience was like for them. To say it "wasn't easy" is certainly an understatement. I see a few of them smiling. In countless interviews over the years, the women of the Class of 1980 have described it as "life-changing, exciting, confusing and challenging." I'm certain a few more colorful words have been used, but these are probably all that was fit to print.
The truth is they faced a great deal of resistance from fellow cadets and others who felt they didn't "belong" at the Academy. As retired Colonel Debra Lewis stated for an article on the Army's webpage last year, she and her female classmates faced "numerous setbacks, bizarre predicaments, and battled embarrassment and disrespect."
As the article details, their uniforms alone caused controversy. The pants had no pockets, forcing the women to carry personal items such as combs, pens and notebooks in unusual places, like inside their covers. And, unlike their male counterparts' their jackets didn't have tails. They were removed in an effort to "avoid attracting too much attention to their backsides."
You know, people ask General Cody and me all the time what types of 'life and death' issues we deal with on a daily basis at the highest levels of our Army. What important decisions must we weigh into and apply our best military advice' You have no idea.
In spite of all the hardship and many challenges, the women of the Class of 1980 persevered and went on to proudly serve in our Army. Many have since followed in their footsteps; and, I know they are grateful to these women for leading the way.
From the American Revolution to present-day operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, women have selflessly and courageously served and sacrificed on behalf of this great Nation. We absolutely could not have achieved all that we have without their many contributions. As Major General Gina Farrisee said at a ceremony held a few years ago:
"More than at any time in our history, we are, indeed, all Soldiers for freedom. And we remember and honor the contributions of women who have made today's Army, ARMY STRONG."
As remarkable as their achievements have been, I am absolutely certain women's greatest achievements lie ahead. On behalf of myself and everyone here this afternoon, I thank our honorees and all women who have served or are serving in our military for everything you do and for your many, many wonderful contributions to our Army and our world.