The U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command (JMC) is proud to celebrate diversity in the workforce during Women’s History Month. In March 2020, we honor the women who have commanded, led, and managed our organization and ammunition installations to provide the Joint Services and our Allies lethal munitions.
Women’s History Month has a set of important milestones starting on March 8th, 1857, when women in New York City staged a labor protest over their working conditions. A Women’s Day Celebration happened in New York City in 1909, followed by a more global effort known as International Women’s Day (held for the first time on March 8th, 1911) with the United Nations taking up the cause as a sponsor since 1975. President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8th as Women’s History Week in 1980. Congress expanded the observation to include the entire month of March in 1986.
As new opportunities to serve emerged, members of the civilian and military community have embraced new challenges, striving for equal treatment amongst their peers. From the courageous acts of female Soldiers, World War I’s Nurses Corps, World War II’s Women’s Army Corps, to the opening of combat jobs to females for full integration in 2016, women have consistently succeeded in more challenging roles in the military.
Many women have proven their commitment, value and expertise in the field of ammunition management at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., and across the United States at ammunition installations. One of the first women Senior Executive Service members was Mrs. Isabelle Hansen who began her Army Civilian service career as GS-1 clerk in 1945 at the Engineer Depot in Granite City, Ill. After a break, Hansen returned to service in 1951, employed as a typist for the procurement branch at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. By 1976, she became the first female employee to reach the GS-15 career level at the Armament Materiel Command. From 1980 to 1985, Hansen was promoted and served in the SES position of Deputy for Procurement and Production, at Headquarters, U.S. Army Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command. She was also the first woman within the Materiel Development and Readiness Command (DARCOM) (now U.S. Army Materiel Command) to be selected for the SES ranks. In 1980, she was one of four women selected to serve as a SES member within the Department of Army.
JMC has significant lineage dating back to when the larger technical commands were decentralized and management for ammunition and other commodities were placed under new commands like the Ordnance Weapons Command in 1955 at Rock Island Arsenal. Our Commander lineage is predominantly male; however, that has evolved. The Joint Munitions Command first female Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Kristin K. French, noted her entrance into the military in 1980, when she was often the only U.S. Military Academy female cadet in the room. She said it was frequently a challenge, but recognized her support from male mentors and leaders that helped her reach the level she achieved in her military career. French advanced her career amidst numerous deployments, including Operation Desert Fox, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and accounts her successes as a Commanding General to the time she spent boots on the ground with Soldiers. She stated, “the success of my organizations as they deployed and had their mission of sustaining operations, maneuver units and troops in combat was dependent upon everything we did in every job – providing rations, fuel, munitions, equipment – maintaining equipment. The amount of supplies that are moving around the battlefield at any one time is just amazing, and being part of how the Army does that is what makes us such a great Army. We can deploy and sustain forces over a long period of time, and that’s because of our Army logistics.”
Brig. Gen. Heidi Hoyle was the second female Commanding General of Joint Munitions Command from 2017 to 2018. She was commissioned as an Ordnance Officer following graduation from West Point in 1994. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering Management, a Master of Science Degree in Systems Engineering, and a Master of Science Degree in National Security and Resource Strategy. Hoyle continues to lead as the Chief of Ordnance of the United States Army and serves as the Commandant of the U.S. Army Ordnance School at Fort Lee, Va.
Brig. Gen. Michelle M.T. Letcher is the current Joint Munitions Command Commanding General. Her leadership is critical to implementing reform and modernization in the munitions industry while ensuring global readiness for ammunition. Letcher was commissioned in the Air Defense Artillery branch via the Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1995. She was branch detailed and became an Ordnance Officer in 1997. She has served in many logistics, command and staff positions in the Army during her career. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from Illinois State University, Normal, Ill., a master’s in Human Services and Counseling from the State University of New York at Oswego, a master’s in Advanced Military Studies from the Command and General Staff College, and a master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.
JMC’s Deputy to the Commander and Executive Director for Ammunition positions have also been managed by several female SES members since 2011: Patricia Huber, Melanie Johnson, Rhonda VanDeCasteele, and JoEtta Fisher have all led the joint mission to distribute, store, demilitarize and produce ammunition. Patricia Huber discussed her career as a female leader, “When I came to the government (in 1983) it was the complete opposite from working in the commercial industry. I have never felt discrimination in the government. In fact, when you are in a male-dominated or populated function, you can use it to your advantage, you stand out.” In her end-of-career oral history interview, she commented on the numerous training and advancement opportunities, and indicated she wished she had taken advantage of even more that were provided by the Army throughout her career.
Command Sgt. Maj. Lynnell Sullivan (1996-1998) and Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka O’Neal (2017-2019) are the only two women who have been assigned as Command Sergeant Majors in JMC’s history. Both made significant contributions to the command’s morale and welfare, while executing daily operations. At the ammunition installations across the country, 12 women have been assigned as Commanders. Lt. Col. Mary Goodwin was the first at Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, Independence, Mo. in 1993, and Lt. Col. Dana Crow is the latest, also commanding at Lake City in 2020. Several women at the installations have occupied Director or Deputy to the Commander positions as well. Some site Commanders such as Lt. Col. Anne Davis and Lt. Col. Yolanda Dennis-Lowman commanded at more than one ammunition installation across their career. Their decisions and leadership impacted the safety of their workforce, the readiness and quality of ammunition products, relationships with contractors and industry and the community. They demonstrated their unparalleled support and execution of the mission.
Collectively, these women and many others throughout the JMC organization, have created a solid foundation for future generations to achieve more in the ammunition industry. Their journeys started at different vectors, some from high school and entry-level positions. Their commitment to education, hard work, Army values and people led them to great pursuits in support of our Nation. During Women’s History Month, we recognize their place in strengthening the ammunition story. Being trusted to lead for ability, not gender, race, religion or disability is a defining milestone for our military and nation.