"Receiving the Thayer Award makes me feel closer to West Point than I've ever felt before," said General Ann Dunwoody (Retired), in an interview just prior to receiving the 62nd annual Sylvanus Thayer Award. A remarkable statement given that Dunwoody, the first women in U.S. military history to achieve the rank of four-star general, comes from a four-generation legacy of West Point graduates: her father (Harold H. Dunwoody, Class of 1943), her grandfather (Halsey Dunwoody, Class of 1905), her great-grandfather (Henry Harrison Chase Dunwoody, Class of 1866, and her brother, Harold "Buck" Dunwoody Jr. '70). "I've been here a lot," she joked.
Yet in addition to her long and strong West Point lineage, Dunwoody’s personal devotion to the values of “Duty, Honor, Country,” the central tenet of the Thayer Award, actually come from her 38 years of distinguished service to the country. “In my Army career, I’ve learned that ‘Duty Honor, Country’ is more than three words: It’s a way of life,” she says.
In 1974, Dunwoody joined the Women’s Army Corps during her junior year at the State University of New York College at Cortland when she learned it paid $500 a month, and planned to stay in long enough to fulfill her two-year commitment. “I joined for the money, but I stayed because I ended up loving being a soldier and leading solders,” Dunwoody told a group of 15 cadets from the Black and Gold Forum in an event before the Thayer Award ceremony. “I learned that the Army is a values-based organization, one that gives its people all the tools they need to make a difference, and I decided to stay in as long as I could make that difference.”
Upon her graduation from college, Dunwoody was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Quartermaster Corps. Her first assignment was as a platoon leader with the 226th Maintenance Company, 100th Supply and Services Battalion at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, a company she later commanded. In her three-plus decades as a Quartermaster Corps officer, she achieved several notable “firsts,” including being the first woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division; the first female general officer at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and the first woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia. Dunwoody also deployed overseas for Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm and, as 1st Corps Support Command commander, deployed the Logistics Task Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom I. Her major staff assignments included: Planner for the Chief of Staff of the Army; Executive Officer to the Director, Defense Logistics Agency; and Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics G-4. As commander of Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, Dunwoody supported the largest deployment and redeployment of U.S. forces since World War II.
In her last assignment, Dunwoody led and ran the Army Materiel Command, the largest global logistics command in the Army, comprising 69,000 soldiers and civilians located in all 50 states and more than 140 countries. She managed a budget of $60B and was responsible for the Army’s Research and Development, Installation and Contingency contracting, Foreign Military Sales, Security Assistance, Supply Chain Management, all Army Depots supporting supply and maintenance functions, manufacturing sites and ammunition plants. Dunwoody led the transformation of the Army’s logistics organizations, processes and doctrine in support of an expeditionary Army. General Ray Odierno ’76 (Retired), the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army, once called Dunwoody “quite simply the best logistician the Army has ever had.”
“General Dunwoody is one of the Army’s most outstanding leaders,” said Superintendent Lieutenant General Darryl Williams ’83, the 60th Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, in his remarks introducing the 2019 Thayer Award recipient. “I can think of no better example of a leader of character or exemplar of our Army’s values and the West Point ideals of ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ than General Ann Dunwoody.”
After expressing her feelings of honor, humility, and gratitude in the introduction of her acceptance speech for the Thayer Award, Dunwoody transitioned to some of the leadership lessons she learned throughout her long Army career, most of which centered on “standards” (in 2013 she authored a book titled A Higher Standard—Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General). “When I joined the Army back in 1975, I just assumed that, as a woman, I’d have to exceed the standard to be accepted in the ranks,” she said. “But what I learned in my journey is that all the good leaders that I looked up to held themselves to a higher standard and encouraged their subordinates to do the same.”
Dunwoody had the opportunity to view the standard at West Point when she, like all Thayer Award recipients before her, trooped the line with the Superintendent during a review of the Corps of Cadets assembled in formation on the Plain in her honor. “You looked fantastic,” Dunwoody told the cadets during her speech, “and as I look out in the audience now, I see the faces of the future: I see the future leadership of our U.S. Army, an Army I’ve been around my entire life, an Army of opportunity, and an Army that I have always loved and will continue to love all the days I have left on this earth.”
“General Dunwoody’s leadership, love of country, and untiring efforts to make our nation better and stronger are lessons all Americans can admire,” said Lieutenant General Joseph DeFrancisco ’65 (Retired)EA, Chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates, before presenting Dunwoody with the Thayer Award. “I can say without hesitation that General Dunwoody’s name on West Point’s Thayer Award plaque greatly enriches the prestige of our alma mater.”
In the concluding moments of her acceptance speech, Dunwoody returned to the specialness of West Point and why it is, in a way, an alma mater to her as well. “I’ll always come back to West Pont for the history, for the traditions, and for the great soldiers I’ve known who have walked the Plain,” she said. “But, most importantly, I’ll come back to maintain my special relationship with this special place on the Hudson that connects me to my family tradition and to the Army that I love.”