She was born in Frankfurt, Germany, the daughter of an Army officer, and grew up an Army brat. She graduated from Southwestern University at Memphis, in Tennessee, earning a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy. Believing that "to be an equal citizen, you need to bear equal responsibility, and when your country's at war, you do what you can to help," she joined the Army in June 1969. She was commissioned a second lieutenant through the Women's Army Corps.
Thirty-one years later, Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy retired from the Army, the first and only woman to have achieved three-star rank. At the time of her retirement, Kennedy, who was born in 1947, was deputy chief of staff for intelligence, capping a succession of staff and command posts she held in the course of a stellar career.
Her "big ambition," she confided to a reporter, was to be a battalion commander. This she accomplished in spades, having commanded military intelligence and recruiting battalions and an intelligence brigade. Her performance earned her a chestful of awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters; the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Army Commendation Medal, also with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
"The Army asks ‘Be all that you can be,’" she said at her retirement ceremony in June 2000. "Today I can honestly tell you that I have been all that I could be. I have risen farther than I ever dared to hope."
It was not an easy rise.
On the Team
With the war in Vietnam raging, with student protests rocking college campuses across the country, the military was not the most popular career of choice for most young people, and particularly not for women. At that time as well, the jobs open to women in the military were limited and, ultimately, limiting.
In those days, General Kennedy said earlier this year at the Virginia Press Women's annual spring conference in Midlothian, women worked only in medical, administrative, or logistics. "Today, the only jobs women are excluded from performing are infantry, armor, and artillery." And between the time her career began and when it ended, the number of women in the Army increased dramatically, from less than one percent to more than 19 percent.
"In those days, women were an anomaly and easily ignored," she said. "Today, women are part of the team and essential to mission success."
General Kennedy gained page one attention not for her accomplishments but when, in 1999, she charged a fellow general with having made improper sexual advances against her will while in her office in 1996. She was moved to speak out, she said, because the general, Larry Smith, had been named deputy inspector general of the Army, a position which involves oversight responsibility for investigations of sexual harassment allegations and the evaluation of programs designed to eliminate such harassment in the Army. After an investigation, General Smith received an administrative memorandum of reprimand, and took early retirement, never having assumed duties as the deputy inspector general.
General Kennedy's professional achievements have been acknowledged with an array of accolades. She received the "Living Legacy Patriot Award" from the Women's International Center in 1998. She has been honored by the Business and Professional Women of the United States, the Girl Scout Council of Hawaii, Women Executives in State Government, the National Women's Law Center, and the National Center for Women and Policy. She was on the Ladies Home Journal's list of "100 Most Important Women" and on Vanity Fair's "Most Influential." She has received honorary degrees from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Since her retirement from the Army, General Kennedy has written a memoir, Generally Speaking, and is planning on a series of novels that will feature a female general as the lead character.
The general, who has never married, has also gotten involved in programs that help at-risk children. She chairs the Board of Directors of First Star, a non-profit organization whose goal is to create new initiatives and strengthen existing laws and policies aimed at improving health, safety, and family life for America's most vulnerable children by providing better care and outcomes in child protective services, in family courts, and in foster care systems across the United States. In this area, she also serves as an advisor to Every Child Matters, a non-profit that focuses on achieving a "family-friendly Congress," and Education Through Leadership.
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudia_J._Kennedy#/media/File:Claudia_J_Kennedy.jpg