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Marching on -- Three Generations of Army Women

By Lt. Col. Randy Pullen
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 22, 1999 – A considerable amount of women's history gathered here recently at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

A. Heather Coyne was commissioned as an Army Reserve second lieutenant in the Hall of Heroes at the memorial. While she has not yet begun to make women's history, the two women who pinned her with gold bars certainly have. The Army they first joined is considerably different for women from the one Coyne joins.

Pinning on one bar was Brig. Gen. Karol A. Kennedy, deputy commanding general of the Army Reserve 99th Regional Support Command, Oakdale, Pa., and one of the first Army Reserve woman generals. Kennedy had started out as an enlisted soldier in 1963 and was commissioned two years later after graduating from the Women's Army Corps Officers Candidate School at Fort McClellan, Ala.

Placing Coyne's other shoulder bar was the woman who had commissioned Kennedy in 1965, retired Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington. The seventh WAC director, from 1966 to 1971, she was the first WAC officer promoted to brigadier general, on June 11, 1970.

Hoisington's Army service goes back to early World War II when women except nurses weren't officially in the Army, but were members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. She enlisted in November 1942 and went to OCS, although her commission in May 1943 was to the rank of WAAC third officer. When the auxiliary became the Women's Army Corps a month later, its officers changed to standard Army ranks.

The story of how these three women came to be at the WIMSA Memorial goes back to 1998. Kennedy, in her civilian job as the deputy comptroller in the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, met Coyne at an Office of Management and Budget hearing. Coyne works in the OMB National Security Division, where she evaluates DoD programs, budgets and policies.

During the hearing, Coyne remarked to Kennedy that she wanted to get into Army Reserve civil affairs, but wasn't sure how to do it.

"I wanted to do civil affairs long before I knew it was called that or that it existed anywhere. Then I discovered the Army Reserve has an entire branch dedicated to it," Coyne said. Kennedy put Coyne in touch with the 99th Regional Support Command. After she studied her options, Coyne applied for a direct commission.

As the commissioning process neared its conclusion, Coyne asked Kennedy if she would commission her, which Kennedy readily agreed to do. Coyne asked Kennedy if she had any ideas about where to hold the ceremony.

Kennedy immediately suggested the WIMSA Memorial and suggested who might pin on Coyne's other gold bar -- Hoisington. Coyne was delighted with both choices.

"I can't tell you how thrilled I was that General Kennedy and General Hoisington agreed to perform the ceremony," Coyne said, "and what more appropriate site than the Women's Memorial, whose goal is to 'honor military women, past, present and future'. Without General Kennedy, I don't know if I would ever have gotten to this point. To have both her and her own mentor pin on my bars, well, they've set a tradition for excellence for themselves and for others that I'll do my best to follow.

"I hope I can do as much for the next generation of Army women - - and anyone who wants to serve -- as they did for me," she added.

After the ceremony, Hoisington gave Coyne a piece of advice: "When opportunity knocks, open the door. If you hesitate, the rules will change."

That advice is related to the promotion that had meant the most to her -- and it wasn't the one to brigadier general. "From private to first sergeant, that was my greatest promotion in the Army," she said.

That happened to her in 1942, when the Army decided to make women serve in units before they could apply for Officers Candidate School. Following basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, Private Hoisington went to a WAAC aircraft early warning unit in Bangor, Maine.

The company commander recognized the talents of the former Army brat and college graduate and made her the first sergeant soon after her arrival. It was no acting appointment; she became a hard-stripe first sergeant.

Hoisington sought out the most grizzled male first sergeant she could find and asked him to teach her what she needed to know. He did a good job, she said. When she did get to OCS, she never had to open a book.

Hoisington also said that she received quite a lot of wide-eyed looks and "Are those real?" questions from fellow candidates when she arrived at OCS wearing first sergeant stripes. The stripes came off as they became candidates, but she still got paid as a first sergeant.

Kennedy also started out as an enlisted woman before receiving her commission in 1965 after graduating from OCS. She then served as a platoon leader of an OCS training company under then-Lt. Col. Hoisington, who commanded the WAC Center.

In those days, Kennedy related, the WAC director was the Army's only full colonel position for women, and the promotion was temporary. Women who stayed in the Army after being WAC director reverted to lieutenant colonel.

Things changed for women in the Army, however, as evidenced by Hoisington's promotion to brigadier general in 1970 and the elimination of the WAC in 1978. Women were assimilated into most branches of the Army. More became general officers. Kennedy went on to serve in the active Army, in the Army National Guard and in the Army Reserve in a variety of command and staff positions, including several never before filled by a woman.

Still, when Kennedy assumed her current position in 1997, the concept of a woman Reserve general was still novel -- she was the second. The Army Reserve had only gotten its first non-Nurse Corps woman general earlier that year.

Coyne has begun her journey, Kennedy said at the ceremony. She was commissioned a military intelligence officer and will be assigned to the 220th Military Police Brigade in Gaithersburg, Md. Eventually, she can go to civil affairs school and be reassigned to a civil affairs unit.

For now, though, Coyne recognizes the value of gaining experience in a military police unit, especially since many civil affairs and police missions are closely related. She said she has no illusions about how demanding and busy, if also rewarding, civil affairs will be.

She'll encounter plenty of challenges still facing women in the Army, but she also knows two pioneers who blazed a considerable amount of trail for her -- the two women history-makers who pinned on her gold bars at the Women's Memorial at Arlington.

(Lt. Col. Randy Pullen is assigned to the Public Affairs and Liaison Directorate, Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, Washington, D.C.)

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