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Generally Speaking

 

Not your typical review of Generally Speaking, A memoir by the first woman promoted to three-star general in the United States Army, Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy USA (Retired) with Malcolm McConnell, Warner Books, September 2001.

 

J. D. Pendry

 

A friend of mine, who knows and served with General Kennedy, bought this book. I wonít share her name, because I didnít ask permission.My reliable, but unnamed source is a woman and former enlisted soldier, Officer Candidate School Honor Graduate and Military Intelligence Captain in the Army.I asked her for her slant on the Generalís book and she responded by handing it to me to read.I suppose that was her method of preventing me from being lazy and using her thoughts in place of my own.I carried the book home and plopped it down.Over the past several months, it moved to many different locations here in the Bunker until, finally, it surrounded me. I surrendered and read it.My reliable, but unnamed source did provide me with an opinion of the Generalís musings once I assured her that I read it.Iíll share that with you before I finish here.

 

I started General Kennedyís book with some preconceived notions.First, I expected it, like most books Iíve read by and about Generals, to be full of leadership pontification.There was some of that, but no great leadership revelations, no Patton-like quotes.Second, I expected an accounting of challenges met and successfully overcome.There were a few of those, for example being a successful executive officer for the ďPrince of Darkness.ĒMostly, what I expected from the Armyís most successful woman was some point by point guidance to other Army women on how to succeed in a male dominated world.That, unfortunately, I didnít find.Maybe it was there, maybe you have to be a woman to find it - I donít know.Whatever the reason, I didnít find that message in the Generalís book so, it was disappointing in that regard.

 

I heard General Kennedy speak once at Fort Myer, Virginia.She was the guest speaker at an equal opportunity observance.The one that recognizes the accomplishments of women in the Army.Her topic that day was the book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.This is a book which discusses how men and women view and approach life differently.I own a copy of the book, bought it several years ago, but have never read more than the first few pages.It hasnít surrounded me yet.That really has no bearing on General Kennedyís book, but maybe it can give you some insight to the General.Strangely enough, I expected her to talk about the challenges and accomplishments of women in the Army.That was the only time I ever met her Ė so the first impression rule applied.We did have a telephone conversation once, maybe Iíll tell you about that later.

 

Did I tell you that this is not your typical book review?General Kennedy did speak of things youíd expect Ė the glass ceiling, sexual harassment and an occasional allusion to the good ole boy network.Had she been a twice passed over, retired major her discussions of these topics would have held more validity for me.Itís difficult to equate her as being a victim of them when she left the Army at a rank that most, men included, can never hope to attain.

 

She states in the book that she did not want the incident with Major General Smith to be of central focus so she wasnít going to spend much time with it.The Smith incident itself did not garner a lot of type space, however, it was the lead-in to a long (zzzzzzz) discussion of sexual harassment and the panel she served on which examined the problem Army wide following the incidents at Aberdeen.

 

I found the Smith incident disturbing when I first heard of it.At the time, however, I wrote it off as just another sad day for the Army.Frankly, after reading General Kennedyís account, Iím even more disturbed, but maybe not for the reasons youíre thinking.Let me share some of General Kennedyís words with you.

 

ďIn 1993, when Iíd been assigned as the FORSCOM director of intelligence at Fort McPherson near Atlanta, I has moved into the Army quarters next to Larry Smith and his wife, Ann. ÖThe Smiths were very kind, often inviting me for supper at their house on the spur of the moment; Larry prepared my lawn mower for winter storage in the garage.In turn, I had helped with the arrangements of keeping a car for their son, who was away at school, and had turned it over to him when he returned.This was a typical Army neighbor relationship:One doesnít know the other well, but is ready to help when needed, especially when a family is being reassigned. Ö

 

Then when Smith rose to leave my office, he suddenly committed an act of inappropriate contact that two attorneys on different occasions have informed me constituted sexual assault and battery. (In May 2000, the Army Inspector General substantiated that Smithís act was an ďassault consummated by a battery.Ē)Ö

 

I have decided not to discuss in detail the nature of this act.Ē

 

There you have it.First, let me explain that the IG only offers an opinion, not always a legally sufficient one at that.That, in JDís opinion is why itís a rare IG investigation that results in judicial action. Although they investigated, they were not able to find any other incidents of sexual harassment in Smithís career.They concluded, according to General Kennedy, that since she had nothing to gain from making her complaint she must have been telling the truth.Now, can I ask a dumb ole country boy question?Have you ever been hugged by a friend?One that used to invite you over for dinner with his family ďon the spur of the momentĒ and hadnít seen you for a while?In fairness to General Kennedy, only she knows if she felt threatened or violated.However, since she did not discuss the nature of the act, she causes me to question what really happened.She follows her brief discussion of the Smith incident with a long iteration on sexual harassment.

 

There are some good points to this book.General Kennedy does show a pattern of concern for the welfare of soldiers throughout the book.She does offer thoughts on mentoring, although you may find them odd at times.In one instance, she speaks of a Major (woman) who tries to adopt her as a mentor.The Major asked her what it takes to become a general like her.In the book, General Kennedy said at that point she decided that the Major was not General Officer material.She does give much credit to noncommissioned officers in her development as a leader and in developing her technical expertise and she offers an insight that we havenít had before Ė that being the insight of a woman general officer. She touches briefly on a number of areas ranging from gender-integrated basic training (which she and I will obviously never agree about) to the future threat based on her professional experience as the Armyís senior military intelligence officer.

 

She does make one, to me humorous, attempt at demonstrating female superiority.She described experiences of asking Military Policeman at the gate of an installation for directions.The male she said, forgot everything else he was doing, and gave her his undivided attention while giving her directions.In the Generalís words, Sadaam could have walked through the gate and the male MP wouldnít have noticed.The female, on the other hand, was able to continue checking ID cards, and directing traffic while giving her directions.This was her example of how women are better at multi tasking than are men.I told you that I once had a phone conversation with General Kennedy. It was when I was the CSM at Fort Myer and it was about the performance of MPs at the gate at Fort McNair.

 

There was one annoying part of this book.I took it as an in your face annoyance.Having written a book, I can tell you first hand about editor torture when it comes to gender neutralizing the text.In other words, try hard to not speak in one gender, or if you must, add a disclaimer, which indicates that you include both genders even though you only speak in one.†† All of the discussion in this book is in the feminine and thereís no disclaimer.It becomes annoying after awhile.She obviously wrote the book to appeal to a female audience, but in so doing probably lost or alienated a male audience that she could have educated.But, I suppose women might feel the same when most everything written is in the masculine.

 

If I had to rate this book on itís value to the Army and future leaders, it gets a 2.5 out of 5.Itíll never make my must read list, but itís a should read simply because itís one of a kind and you may garner some insight from it.However, General Kennedyís book left me looking for a womanís view about what it takes for women to succeed in the Army.I was and am still looking for a good description of the womanís (shameless plug here) Three Meter Zone.Maybe we can find a successful woman NCO to write that for us.To quote my reliable, but unnamed source, ďI was disappointed in this book.Ē