But that is not to imply that there were no opportunities available. The early success of the women's rights movement and the anticipated passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), combined with the end of the draft, propelled the Pentagon to review the status of women in the military services. The Army committee, also known as the ERA Committee, provided tiered recommendations on, among other things: the continuance of a separate women's corps, the increase in the number of specialties open to women, the law requiring discharge in the event of pregnancy, and the opening of ROTC and military academies to women.
As a result of the gradual implementation of these recommendations, the Army that then-Lieutenant Dunwoody entered was full of paradoxes. While the Women's Army Corps still existed on paper, all of its members had been transferred to other branches, and it would not be formally disestablished until 1978. Moreover, while women could now serve in 430 of 467 military specialties, they could not command any unit that had a combat mission.
Additionally, although the Army had discontinued involuntarily separating pregnant Soldiers, the personnel office was still struggling with regulations balancing the needs of families with the needs of the service. Also, despite the fact that women could enroll in ROTC as of 1972, none had yet been commissioned, and women were still excluded from the military academies. This was soon solved when, after years of political wrangling, in October 1975, President Gerald Ford finally signed the bill authorizing women's entrance into the military academies the next year as part of the Class of 1980.
However, nowhere was the new equality more evident than in training. Standards for women increased as the services moved toward integrated training. General Dunwoody was among the first women who received defensive weapons instruction in small arms as well as the light antitank weapon (LAW), the 40-mm grenade launcher, the Claymore mine, and the M60 machine gun. This signaled recognition that, despite the exclusion from combat specialties, women would be serving in the combat zone alongside the men. Time and again, in Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, this has proven to be true.
Since General Dunwoody entered the Army, the number of women has steadily increased from less than 2 percent to more than 14 percent today (in the Reserves that number approaches 24 percent). Currently there are over 15,000 women serving in the combat zone, and more than 100 have lost their lives in combat with an additional 600 wounded. Two brave women, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester and Specialist Monica Brown have earned Silver Stars for heroism.
General Dunwoody's advancement to the pinnacle of the promotional hierarchy not only marks the culmination of her 33 years in the Army, but that of the decades of service provided by the thousands of women who came before her. It also provides a path for those who come after her, who will owe her and others like her a debt of gratitude for their perseverance.