"I never grew up in an environment where I heard the words 'glass ceiling,'" Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody said of her childhood. She never felt constrained or limited in any way.

Dunwoody's interests did not originally lean toward a career in the Army. She said that even as a kid she wanted to teach physical education and raise a family, an ambition that lasted right up until she joined the Army.

She initially considered her enlistment as merely a two-year commitment and would move on with other plans when she was done. But Dunwoody soon discovered that the Army was where she belonged. After 33 years of service and a career of "firsts" for women in the Army, Dunwoody was promoted on Nov. 14, 2008-the first woman four-star not only in the Army, but in all of the U.S. armed forces.

Dunwoody's promotion is the latest achievement for women in the military, dating to 1970 when Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays became the first woman general officer in U.S. military history.

Not in her wildest dreams did she ever think she would be a general, let alone a four-star, she said.

The promotion ceremony, held in the Pentagon, was packed with well-wishers, friends and family. Cameras flashed as Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates gave opening remarks.

"History will no doubt take note of (Dunwoody's) achievement in breaking through this final 'brass ceiling' to pin on this fourth star," he said. "But she would rather be known and remembered first and foremost as a U.S. Army Soldier."

General George W. Casey Jr., chief of staff of the Army, who hosted the ceremony, praised Dunwoody as a "premiere logistician." He thanked her for her dedicated service to the Army, and wished her well.

"What's happening here today is something our Army can celebrate and take pride in," Casey said of her achievement.

Casey and Dunwoody's husband, Craig Brotchie, pinned on her new rank amidst applause and an enthusiastic "hooah" from the audience. The newly appointed general stood alone at the center of the stage accepting prolonged cheers with dignity and humility.

"Well, thank you," Dunwoody said with a smile. "I wish I could begin to describe the incredible feelings of gratitude, humility and love that are absolutely consuming me at this very moment, but it's impossible."

She thanked not only the audience for their support, but her family and an extensive list of colleagues, mentors and fellow Soldiers as well.

Dunwoody was the first woman to hold the deputy chief of staff position for the Army G-4 (Logistics), where she was responsible for ensuring warfighters had the necessary supplies and services, and that logisticians had the tools and equipment necessary to deliver those supplies and services to Soldiers around the world.

As the commander of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., from 2002-2004, Dunwoody supported the largest deployment and redeployment of U.S. forces since World War II.

She has also commanded the 407th Supply and Transportation Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; the 10th Mountain Division Support Command, Fort Drum, N.Y.; and the 1st Corps Support Command at Fort Bragg. She deployed during the first Gulf War with the 82nd as the division parachute officer from September 1990 to March 1991.

Dunwoody said she feels fortunate to have lived a life of firsts, and believes the promotion is "as overwhelming as it is humbling."

Dunwoody received a direct commission as a second lieutenant after graduating form the State University of New York at Cortland in 1975. She has graduate degrees in national resource strategy and logistics management. Her family has a long history of military service, including her husband, who is a retired Air Force colonel.

Her father, Hal Dunwoody, influenced both her personality and her career as a Soldier. After graduating from West Point in 1943, he served in World War II and later the Korean War, receiving two Purple Hearts and a Distinguished Service Cross for valor. He also served in Vietnam.

"When people talk to him about his two Purple Hearts, he is quick to say he was just a 'slow learner,' though we all know better," Dunwoody said. "And Dad, I am grateful for this opportunity to say thanks for your service to our nation, and for instilling in me timeless values of integrity, courage and sense of values.

"I know most of my success is founded in what I learned from you as a dad, as a patriot and as a Soldier," she said, nodding to her father. In a show of respect for the service of both Dunwoody and her father, the audience rose in a standing ovation.

"This promotion has taken me back in time like no other event in my entire life. And I didn't appreciate the enormity of the event until the tidal wave of cards, letters and emails started coming my way," Dunwoody said.

"I've heard from moms and dads that see this promotion as a beacon of hope for their own daughters, and an affirmation that anything is possible through hard work and commitment," she said.

Dunwoody also received congratulations and expressions of excitement from women veterans of previous wars.

In addition to receiving her fourth star, Dunwoody took command of U.S. Army Material Command, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va., during an afternoon ceremony. As the commanding general, Dunwoody will oversee AMC headquarters' move to Huntsville, Ala., under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act. Prior to taking command, she served as the deputy commanding general and chief of staff of AMC.

"Today is all about two simple words: thank you," Dunwoody said at the promotion.

"I think it's tremendous," Brotchie said later of his wife's achievement. "It's enriched our lives."

(Editor's note: Reports from AMC Public Affairs and Elizabeth M. Collins contributed to this article.)