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Friday, March 04, 2011

Flournoy Hails Pioneering Military, Civilian Women

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2011 – The Pentagon’s top civilian policy official said she wouldn’t be in her current position if it weren’t for the many women before her, whom she hailed as “true pioneers.”

That was the message delivered today by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, who spoke at the Joint Services Women’s History Month luncheon held at the Kennedy Caucus Room of the U.S. Senate’s Russell Office Building.

“These women -- uniformed and civilian alike -- have showed the others who followed that it’s possible to be a woman and serve your country with great distinction,” Flournoy said. “And often, they had to overcome great obstacles to do so.”

The luncheon event follows President Barack Obama’s Feb. 28 proclamation designating March as Women’s History Month.

In his proclamation, Obama noted that American women “scale the skies as astronauts, expand our economy as entrepreneurs and business leaders, and serve our country at the highest levels of government and our Armed Forces.”

On Feb. 28, the U.S. Senate approved Concurrent Resolution 8, which recognizes “the importance of women to national defense throughout the history of the United States; and encourages the people of the United States to honor women who have served and who continue to serve the United States in the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Attending today’s luncheon with Flournoy was Undersecretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal, who as the then-acting Army secretary oversaw the May 11, 2001, dedication of the Women’s Army Museum at Fort Lee, Va.

Westphal thanked today’s women serving in the nation’s military services who’ve “given so much of themselves to support and defend our nation and our way of life.”

Flournoy highlighted some of the women who were responsible for significant accomplishments in defense of the United States.

Jeanne M. Holm, who recently passed away at age 88, was a “true pioneer,” Flournoy said, who joined the Army and worked as a silversmith and a truck driver during World War II.

In 1949, Holm joined the U.S. Air Force and went on to become its first female one-star general, and later, the first female two-star in any branch of the armed forces, Flournoy said.

Holm accomplished many things in her life, Flournoy said, noting she’d worked tirelessly to expand opportunities for military women.

During her military career Holm had fought promotion ‘glass ceilings’ and quotas that limited women, Flournoy noted. Holm, she added, had called for women to be admitted to the service academies, to be able to fly as pilots, and claim the same housing and medical and benefits as men did.

“All these things eventually came to pass, and it’s easy for all of us to sit here and take them for granted,” Flournoy said. “But these advances took a lot of hard work and General Holm worked hard to achieve them.”

Another pioneer and role model for military women, she said, is the late retired Navy Rear Adm. [lower half] Grace Marie Hopper. A Naval officer, Hopper became the first woman to receive a restricted line promotion to flag officer in 1983. Known as “Amazing Grace,” Hopper had a doctorate in mathematics from Yale and joined the Navy reserve as an ordnance officer during World War II.

Hopper was involved in early efforts to develop an electronic computer, Flournoy said. Hopper later developed the prototype of the COBOL software programming, which Flournoy described as “a breakthrough that was credited with making computer programming far more accessible than it had been before.”

Civilian women like Sheila E. Widnall also have made great strides serving in leading roles in the defense department, the undersecretary said.

“High on this list was Sheila Widnall -- the only woman yet to receive a full appointment as a service secretary,” Flournoy said, noting that Widnall also had served as a professor and an associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Widnall had served as Secretary of the Air Force between 1993 and 1997 –- the first woman appointed as the Air Force’s senior civilian.

As Air Force secretary, Widnall “oversaw a modernization program during … budgetary constraints, and helped create a more effective acquisition process to ensure America’s continued air superiority,” Flournoy said.

Widnall also paved the way for “more and more” women to serve in leadership roles in the Pentagon, the undersecretary said.

“In today’s Pentagon,” Flournoy said, “women are the secretary of defense’s chief advisers on everything from legislative affairs, to issues and portfolios from Africa to Eurasia, from homeland defense to the global campaign against weapons of mass destruction.”

Talented, courageous women of the past have paved the way for the opportunities, responsibilities and accomplishments available to today’s women leaders, Flournoy said.

“And all of us in turn, I’m sure, will do everything within our power to open doors for the next generation,” she said. “And that next generation will make contributions to our nation’s defense that we cannot even imagine here today.”

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