War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

19 ❖ An Episode in Panama

Major General H. Norman Schwarzkopf III, a hulking man standing six feet three inches and weighing about 240 pounds, arrived in the Pentagon from an assignment in Germany. He would take over the post of director of military personnel and management in the office of the deputy chief of staff for personnel. It was June 1982. Schwarzkopf would gain a reputation among some fellow generals as "the guy carrying the banner for women's causes." It was a flawed analysis, but in his new job, Schwarzkopf would play a major role in advancing the opportunities for Army women, although he remained opposed to assigning them to combat units.

An outgoing, cheerful, yet demanding officer, Schwarzkopf graduated from West Point, where he was a tackle on the football team, in 1956. His first duty station was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as a paratroop lieutenant in the 101st "Screaming Eagles" Airborne Division. As a brigade commander in Vietnam, he gained a reputation as a tough, smart battle leader, and was awarded three Silver Stars for gallantry and two Purple Hearts for wounds.

Even as a two-star general, Schwarzkopf was virtually unknown outside the Army. Like many generals in peacetime, he seemed destined to eventually retire on a $50,000 annual pension and fade from public view. His late father, H. Norman, Jr., had been far more widely known. He had gained fame when, as the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, he had been instrumental in cracking the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the most notorious crime of the 1930s.

General Schwarzkopf was eager to confront the challenges ahead. It was an exciting time to hold a top personnel post, now that the Army was being strengthened and revitalized under President Reagan.

Schwarzkopf's new boss was Lieutenant General Maxwell Thurman, a thin, dynamic artilleryman who had earned his Army commission through ROTC at North Carolina State University. For more than a year as the Army's top personnel officer, Thurman had been busily overhauling the procedures that governed enlistment, reenlistment, pay, testing, bonuses, promotion, and retirement for everyone from private to four-star general.1

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