There is a long, global tradition of women warriors and protectors in history and folklore. In terms of female archetypes, we have Wonder Woman, we have the Amazons, we have Xena. In Catholicism, there's Joan of Arc. In Islam there’s the great warrior Khawlah, daughter of Azwar. In Hinduism, there are many sacred protector archetypes (Kali, Durga, Chamunda)in addition to hundreds of historical tribal leaders, queens, and commanders. All of these stories celebrate women who have become comfortable with their own power, usually in service of their people. Notice I said power, not necessarily violence. Violence is incendiary. Power is stable and strong, when used wisely and carefully. We all know these moments in ourselves- when our protective strength rises up and shows itself!
In the US, the first documented female soldier was Deborah Gannett. She fought in the American Revolution—disguised as a man—and later had a Navy ship named in her honor. The number of women in the armed services is rapidly increasing. Of the 1.4 million active service members, approximately 200,000 are women. According to the Defense Department, women now make up about 20% of the Air Force, 19% of the Navy, 15% of the Army, and almost 9% of the Marine Corps.What a change since I was at Ft. Knox in Army ROTC in 1984! It was only in 1978 that the Women's Army Corps was disbanded and women soldiers were merged into the regular forces. It took 30 years from that decision to get a woman four-star- General Ann Dunwoody in 2008. Such immense change.
Here are some of the names of women who have led at the highest levels. It is so impressive, we should know them!
General Maryanne Miller, Air Mobility Commander at Scott Air Force Base. The first woman to serve as the Chief of Air Force Reserve, and the only female four-star officer currently serving in any branch of the United States military.
General Michelle Howard (Retired), Four-star admiral who simultaneously commanded the United States Naval Forces Europe and the United States Naval Forces Africa. Her career includes serving in the Gulf War, providing relief for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and leading a rescue of a container ship captain held captive by Somali pirates. When Miller was sworn in as appointed Vice Chief of Naval Operations in 2014, she became the second highest ranking officer in the navy, the highest ranking woman in US armed forces history, and the highest ranking African-American in US Navy History. Celebrating her 60th birthday this year, Michelle Howard—who retired from military service in 2017—is one of the US Navy’s most honored officers.
General Lori Robinson, Air Force (Retired). In 2014, Robinson was chosen to be Commander of the Pacific Air Forces in Hawaii, making her the first United States female four-star commander of combat forces. She was an Air Force Fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and has served at the Pentagon as Director of the Secretary of the Air Force. A veteran of both the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan, retired USAF general Lori Robinson entered the United States Air Force in 1982. Decorated with the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, and Bronze Star Medal. Born in Texas, Robinson is also a wife (of a retired Air Force major general), and the stepmother of a daughter—also in the military—who tragically died after a 2005 plane crash.
General Ann Dunwoody, First woman to become a four star general in the US Army (Retired) “My parents believed I could be anything I wanted to be, with hard work and commitment,” recalled Ann Dunwoody. Dunwoody—an “army brat” born of four generations of West Point graduates—joined the army after the Vietnam War, and rose through the ranks. Early in her military career Dunwoody was a paratrooper—and controversially refused to cut her long blonde hair. “Sometimes people open the doors for me,” Dunwoody told Megyn Kelly in a 2018 interview, “Sometimes I open the door—and sometimes you have to kick down the doors.” A natural leader, Dunwoody is also the author of A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America's First Female Four-Star General. “You don’t have to lose your femininity to be successful,” Dunwoody reflected, “and you don’t have to use it to be successful.”
You probably know by now that I am thoroughly about life. I am about nurturing and creating and non-violence, wherever possible. To choose non-violence is to participate in a harmonious future for our species; a future that we can feel calling to us. That said, I'm also about freedom- everyone's freedom to fulfill their dharma without cultural impediments. The long-standing concept of the protector, the sheepdog, the noble warrior—male or female- that is real. There are times when we are called upon to be fierce, and to stand for what's right. As a mother and leader, I would go tooth and claw to protect those I love. To lead ourselves and others with discernment, we must become deeply familiar with our own power, and honor all life, taking the loss of it very seriously.
For this Memorial Day, we hold these thoughts at the same time: gratitude to those who serve, who have been injured or given their lives to protect us- and at the same time a wish that there are far fewer people injured or harmed in the future. We also take a deep bow to the women who know their own power, and how to wield it wisely for the good of the whole-- whether that's in the home or at NORAD- may they guide the rest of us.