Army women honored for paving new path

By Mr. Rob Mcilvaine (ARNEWS)March 18, 2011

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 18, 2011) -- The first female graduates of the 1980 class at the United States Military Academy and retired Sgt. Maj. Grace L. Mueller were honored on Capitol Hill by the U.S. Army Women's Foundation March 17.

Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the 32nd vice chief of staff of the Army, welcomed the women to Capitol Hill by saying all of them were pioneers who paved the way through unchartered territory, making it possible for others to follow in their footsteps.

"Gen. Douglas MacArthur said the women in his command were 'My best Soldiers. They worked harder, complained less and were better disciplined than the men'," Chiarelli told the hundreds of family, friends and fellow Soldiers gathered in the Russell Senate office building.


Beginning his introduction of Sgt. Maj. Grace L. Mueller, Chiarelli said that Eisenhower must have been referring to Mueller when he said, '(women's) contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination were immeasurable.'

Mueller enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, later renamed the Women's Army Corps, in 1942 when she heard a radio announcement about the formation of the new unit. She was commissioned a year later as a third officer (as new WAAC officers were called) after attending officer candidate school at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

After the war she was discharged, but re-enlisted after a few months and eventually became a sergeant major when she returned for a final assignment in the Pentagon.

When asked about her challenges while in the Army, she said she went where she was ordered and did the job she was given.

One colleague who worked with her over the years described her as having the unusual ability to cut through wordy proposals, reducing them to a few key sentences, exposing both strong and weak points, allowing quick and effective evaluation.


For the 119 women who entered West Point in 1976, one male graduate had a totally different take than MacArthur or Eisenhower.

"This one young man described the event as 'the most traumatic thing that's happened since they took away the horses,'" Chiarelli said. "Let's hope that he never had to face anything truly traumatic."

The incoming women faced more than words from their male cadets.

"Unlike the males, their jackets had the tails cut off. They were removed in an effort, and again I quote, "to avoid attracting too much attention to their backsides," Chiarelli said.

Danna Maller, one of the female graduates, remembered what it was like.

"We got a little bit of everything. There was a small minority who didn't like the idea at all. But there was another minority that thought it was a change for the better," Maller said.

"The lines of battle had changed," she said, referring to the expansion of women's roles in the military brought on by the all-volunteer force in 1973.

That change brought more pressure to open U.S. service academies to women.

Maller, who now owns a private wealth-management business in Albany, N.Y., added that even though it was a new concept, if a woman could hold her own physically and mentally, she got the respect of the men.


Of the 119 women who entered in 1976, 62 graduated. Fourteen were on hand for the formal induction into the Women's Hall of Fame.

Congressman John Shimkus (D-Ill.), also a 1980 West Point graduate, added some personal remarks.

"They are pioneers. But some of my classmates did not make it easy for these women to succeed," Shimkus said.

"Later today, after they approve my submission, I will be entering into the Congressional Record (when they come back into session on March 29) a statement honoring my classmates, the first women graduates of West Point," Shimkus said.

"It felt like a very lonely morning when we arrived at West Point," said Marene Allison who served six years in the military police before becoming an FBI special agent. She now runs IT security for Johnson & Johnson, worldwide.

Bret Dalton, who also graduated in 1980 from West Point, remembered when the head of administration visited his high school in the spring of 1976.

This was a few months after President Gerald R. Ford signed the legislation directing the military services to admit women to the Army, Navy and Air Force academies on Oct. 7, 1975. The Coast Guard, part of the Department of Transportation, also announced it would accept women in 1976.

"I was already accepted to West Point when the head of administration came down to ask if I was okay with women being in the same class. I laughed and told him I had been in school with women my whole life, so didn't see how it could possibly make a difference," said Dalton, who now owns a small business in Monument, Colo.

Dalton also thought that he didn't have a problem with this "new concept" because he didn't come from a military background with a long history of men attending all-male military institutions.

"This was a learning season for the Army ... trying to decide how best to integrate women into the military.

"When we arrived at West Point for the summer training, they had assigned two women to each company. They later decided to keep more women together in each company so they had more camaraderie," Dalton said.


Last year, the 1980 class had their 30th reunion.

"This was the largest 30th reunion in the academy's history and women represent a significant part of that. I think one of the reasons so many of us showed up is because we all identified with the wrestling of those new challenges," Dalton said.

Leigh Rosenberger, a junior at West Point from Lancaster, Pa., volunteered to attend the Hall of Fame luncheon with six other female cadets.

"My grandpa, his brothers, a cousin and an uncle all went to Virginia Military Institute and that's where they wanted me to go. But when I visited West Point I fell in love with everything about it -- the challenges, so much opportunity, and the demand for officers -- and what it could mean for my career," Rosenberger said.

Rosenberger is looking at a career in engineering or possibly in the medical service. She still hasn't decided, due to so much opportunity available.

"Coming to this luncheon has been a moving experience. I can't imagine what it was like for these women. But it's a lot easier now. I mean, I got treated exactly the same as the men when I arrived. I didn't feel discriminated against, at all," Rosenberger said.

The women graduates who represented the class of 1980 were Marene Allison, Sue Fulton, Kathy Gerstein, Joan Grey, Deb Lewis, Pat Locke, Danna Maller, Erin Misner, Liz O'Brien, Kathy Silvia, Doris Turner, Mary Whitley, Donna White and Col. Sylvia Moran, who will retire in a week after 31 years of service. Moran is the last female graduate of the class still on active duty.

Following the inductions, the foundation presented seven Legacy Scholarships. The Foundation Legacy Scholarship program recognizes the importance of education and helps recipients to achieve their educational goals. The program offers financial support toward undergraduate degrees to Army women and their lineal descendents. Scholarships are based on merit, academic potential, community service and need.

For more information about the Army Women's Foundation, visit

Related Links:

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