By Chick Jacobs
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
Ann Dunwoody expected to share some handshakes and hugs on her first return to Fayetteville in years Saturday morning.
The retired four-star general didn’t expect to be received like a rock star.
Dunwoody, who appeared at the U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum to discuss and sign her book, “A Higher Standard,” ended up posing for selfies and scrapbooks with a least a dozen fans.
“I’ve never seen anything like it here,” said museum foundation executive director Paul Galloway. “As soon as she arrived, people were lining up to get their picture with her.”
Make it one more in a long line of firsts for Dunwoody. During her 38-year military career, she was the first woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division and, in 2000, became the first female general to serve at Fort Bragg.
She retired in 2012 as the first female four-star general in American military history. Many at ASOM met her at Fort Bragg, and others were drawn by her place in history.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Lasonjia Kirk, a command sergeant major at Fort Bragg with 28 years of service. “Our paths never crossed, but I knew about her. She’s a special leader.”
Dunwoody’s leadership skills, rather than her gender status, led her to write a book — a task she called “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,
“People kept asking me when I was going to write my story,” she said. “How did I fight and claw my way to the top? It would have been easier to write that … about how I was Wonder Woman fighting my way up.
“But, the truth is my advancement was more about leadership than gender. I didn’t want to write a biography or a memoir. I wanted to write the strategies that would help others in life.”
Dunwoody’s background screamed “military career,” with a family tree full of West Point graduates and military officers.
“But from the time I was 5 years old, I knew I was going to be a coach or a phys ed teacher,” she said.
A program designed to increase female enlistment led Dunwoody to sign up for two years. “I figured I could do that standing on my head,” she said. “Then two years became five, five became 10, and eventually my career.”
Along the way, she realized she had become what she planned to be — a coach and motivator of young men and women.
“My dream was realized,” she said. “It was just a different classroom.
“Along the way there have been roadblocks and obstacles. There have also been people who help, who believed in me. Those are lessons people can use in any career field.”
Others, she noted, include putting a human face on leadership, being willing to be more than just a faceless voice of authority.
“And never just walk past a mistake,” she added. “When you do you lower the bar for your organization, no matter what. Don’t take the easy route and walk past.
“Were there times I wanted to quit? You bet. Times I wanted to run away? You bet. But at the end of the day, ask yourself, ‘If I take the easy road, if I quit, who wins?'”