USA — Mullen Praises Trailblazing Military Women

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2010 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flanked by two of the nation’s top female mil­i­tary offi­cers, today recount­ed the ear­ly days of women’s inte­gra­tion into the ser­vices and said “we would be nowhere as a mil­i­tary” with­out trail­blaz­ing women.

“In com­bat, in every part of who we are as a mil­i­tary right now, women have been extra­or­di­nary,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said at For­tune magazine’s Most Pow­er­ful Women sum­mit here today.

Mullen took the stage before an audi­ence of most­ly civil­ian women lead­ers along­side Gen. Ann Dun­woody, com­man­der of Army Materiel Com­mand, and Navy Vice Adm. Ann Ron­deau, pres­i­dent of Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty.

At the summit’s Lead­er­ship Lessons pan­el mod­er­at­ed by CNN’s Kyra Phillips, the three senior lead­ers recalled how far the ser­vices have come in inte­grat­ing women since they entered the mil­i­tary — Mullen in 1968, and Ron­deau and Dun­woody in 1974 and 1975, respec­tive­ly.

Mullen recalled serv­ing on the Naval Academy’s admis­sions board in Octo­ber 1976 when the acad­e­my received a telegram from the White House announc­ing that women would be per­mit­ted to enter the acad­e­my in the next aca­d­e­m­ic year. Only one woman served on the admis­sions board, he recalled, and they would have to move quick­ly to pre­pare for the change. The chair­man acknowl­edged it did­n’t go smooth­ly that first year.

“As I look back, I real­ize now how lit­tle I knew about how to inte­grate women,” Mullen said, adding that he learned from the expe­ri­ence. “Through­out my career, I’ve tried to lis­ten to peo­ple and view the sit­u­a­tion through their eyes.

“For me, it’s about how we cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties, then sink or swim,” he con­tin­ued. “If the tal­ent pool is there, we need to rec­og­nize that and make sure doors stay open.”

Those first female grad­u­ates opened doors for oth­ers, Mullen said, not­ing that the mil­i­tary now stays between 20 and 25 per­cent female. The Navy con­tin­ues to under­go sig­nif­i­cant inte­gra­tion efforts, the pan­elists not­ed, with the first female sub­mariners cho­sen last sum­mer, 16 years after women were per­mit­ted to serve on sur­face ships.

“We would be nowhere as a mil­i­tary if some­one not had the wis­dom to send that telegram way back then, and if we had not had women like this ready to step up when the mil­i­tary was­n’t ready for them and blaze a trail,” Mullen said, refer­ring to Dun­woody and Ron­deau.

The Navy’s lack of prepa­ra­tion for inte­grat­ing women in the 1970s “was pret­ty pro­found,” Ron­deau said. What that meant for her, she said, was try­ing to find a men­tor she could trust to help her grow, deter­min­ing where she could make a dif­fer­ence, and know­ing which bat­tles to fight.

Asked whether women ser­vice­mem­bers must prove them­selves more than men, Ron­deau said, “I’m not sure that it is as much about who you are, as where you are, and what you bring to the table. You come with a cer­tain amount of com­pe­tence and con­fi­dence, then you just lead.”

Dun­woody, the military’s first female four-star offi­cer, joined the Army just after the Women’s Army Corps was dis­band­ed. “Our jour­ney was to forge -– and some­times force -– women into the full spec­trum of capa­bil­i­ties,” she said.

For Dun­woody, that meant jump­ing out of air­planes, doing 12-mile ruck­sack march­es, and com­mand­ing troops in war zones, she said. “That’s our jour­ney and our lega­cy,” she added.

That was the jour­ney we had to build through­out our careers.”

Phillips asked about the evolv­ing role of women in com­bat and whether women might soon serve in Spe­cial Forces. While none of the three would spec­u­late on when law or pol­i­cy might change in that regard, all acknowl­edged that women already serve in com­bat and that the nature of war­fare has changed such that the issue will con­tin­ued to be addressed.

“We are in an asym­met­ri­cal envi­ron­ment with­out front and rear bound­aries,” Dun­woody said of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Every sol­dier is in dan­ger. What’s so good about the mil­i­tary is that we con­tin­ue review those [poli­cies]. The doors con­tin­ue to open, and poli­cies con­tin­ue to change to cap­ture the tal­ent of men and women in uni­form. All in bat­tle are mak­ing sac­ri­fices, and we can nev­er for­get that.”

Mil­i­tary lead­ers need to assess what has been learned from com­bat in Iraq and Afghanistan regard­ing women ser­vice­mem­bers, Mullen said. “It’s very impor­tant that we take a look at what we’ve learned in these wars and look at whether we should eval­u­ate those poli­cies. Bat­tle is nowhere and it is every­where right now; every­one is in a com­bat zone. We’ve got to under­stand what that means and roll it into the future.”

Ron­deau also said she expects laws and poli­cies to evolve to open more doors for women. “We’re putting women on sub­marines, we’ve had them at sea for a while, and we’ve had them in the air a while,” she said. “You can’t win the cur­rent fight with­out women on the field, and that just is a fact.”

The issue sur­round­ing women in com­bat roles, Ron­deau said, is about not only capa­bil­i­ties, but also mind­set. She recalled a time when she was com­man­der of Navy acces­sions train­ing and a female sailor just out of boot camp went out of her way to ask the com­man­der a ques­tion. “Am I ready to fight and win?” the young woman asked Ron­deau.

“I’d put her in war any day,” the admi­ral told the audi­ence. “Being a warfight­er is not just about the com­pe­tence to fight. It’s also about the spir­it. A warfight­ing spir­it is some­thing that comes from the heart.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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