Some Football Updates

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 5.40.21 PMCOACH POSITION: Earlier this month Kathryn Smith became the first female full-time coach in the NFL. After years of serving in various assistant capacities she will be a quality control assistance coach for the Buffalo Bills. She will analyze tapes and data, compile statistics, and provide reports for the Head Coach so that he will know what he will be facing in the next game. During the game she will continue tracking plays.

CHIEF EXECUTIVE POSITION: Amy Trask, who began her career as an intern with the Oakland Raiders is now their chief executive. Aside from some team owners, no other woman ranks higher than she does in the NFL.

ON THE DISAPPOINTING SIDE: Jen Welter, whose five-week internship with the Arizona Cardinals has ended, was not picked up as a fulltime coach. She spent 14 years playing professional football, including in a men’s league where she was the First Woman in a non-kicking position. She still hopes to be picked up, if not by the Cardinals then by another team.


Diana Holland – First Commandant of Cadets at West Point

WEST POINT INSIGNIAThe Superintendent of West Point just swore in the First Woman Commandant of Cadets. Brigadier General Diana Holland will be responsible for training the elite cadets who are usually first in line for promotions into the higher ranks of the Army. A graduate of West Point (and Holland is one) usually holds this position, but Holland’s path there might have been a bit unique. When Holland was eight years old when she told her father she wanted to go into the military. The academies were only beginning to admit women, but her father told her to set her sites on West Point so she would have a leg up on her career. Holland, who has served in Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan, previously returned to West Point as an instructor in history.

Her appointment follows on the heels of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter‘s announcement that in the future women are entitled to fill any role in the military for which they qualify. Holland’s appointment was underway when this occurs so the juxtaposition may be accidental, but its significance is reinforced by the timing of the two events.

The Superintendent of the Academy recognized other women in the audience, in particular two other First Women. Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, who completed the Army’s strenuous Ranger training last year, are also graduates of West Point.

A Musical with a First Woman

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 12.33.01 PMLast night I saw the musical “Come from Away” about the people of Gander and the passengers (7,000 people in all) whose 38 planes were grounded in Newfoundland on 9/11. The musical, written by husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, was a joint production of the La Jolla Playhouse and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. It had extended full-house runs in both La Jolla and Seattle.

With a dozen actors playing multiple roles, on a single-set stage with a wonderful band of Newfoundlander musicians, the story is fast-paced. Because we all know what is happening from the beginning of the play, although the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, and the passengers, do not, I found myself crying from beginning to end. Hearing people’s personal stories (and the play is based on interviews with the citizens of Gander and the passengers) makes the tragedy feel immediate and poignant. The play and music are packed with powerful images from when the passengers don borrowed clothes, and wonder who they are or have become, to when they return to “normal” but find everything different.

A central figure in the story is the airline pilot Beverly Bass. Her solo, “Me and the Sky” is a recitation of what it takes to become a First Woman. She begins with her childhood dream to be a pilot, her persistence in following her path, and her final achievement in becoming the First Woman to become a captain of an airline crew at American Airlines.

For me, the most heart-stretching part of the play was the section simply titled, “Prayer.” One young man has been dreaming of a song and begins to sing it. It is the Christian stalwart, “Make me a channel of your peace.” The song is performed in harmony, as a round, a wonderful reimagining of the original melody but it becomes even more powerful when a Jewish rabbi begins to sing in his own tradition, while Muslim passengers kneel to bow and pray.

The play is filled with moments of hope. If you find yourself in need of inspiration and this musical comes to a city near you, hasten to obtain tickets. It will make you laugh, cry, applaud. You won’t “come away” humming the tunes but you might want to dance a jig in celebration of the possibilities for humankind.

Future First Women in the Military

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 10.34.57 AMDefense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has announced that all combat roles in our military will be open to women. This is a critical move for women as the progression up the line of command to the higher ranks often goes through the assignments that are currently denied to women. It also means there will be many First Women earning positions in the military over the next few years.

It strikes me that this situation is emblematic of many situations involving First Women. It takes a woman of grit to move into male territory, and sometimes it also takes a man. Men, after all, were, and to some extent still are, in power and it is sometimes their decisions that make firsts possible.

This action by Carter took some courage on his part. He had the support of the Army, Navy, and Air Force but not the Marines. This might not have mattered but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph E. Dunford, Jr., was former commandant of the Marine Corps, opposed to this decision, and did not stand beside Carter when it was announced.

In spite of that, Carter emphasized. “There will be no exceptions.”

His guts are matched with the achievements of United States Army’s First Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest, who completed Ranger School and proved women were capable, in spite of not knowing at the time whether they would be allowed to join a Ranger unit. Since their achievement, Maj. Lisa Jaster has also completed Ranger training. Carter said their success was part of the research that led to his decision. A confluence of women’s fortitude and a man’s daring made this possible.

I would not want my daughter to be in the military, in spite of the fact that I come from a military family. My mother, father, brother, sister, and first husband all served. Consequently, I have great respect for those who serve, but also have strong feelings about war as the solution to our problems and would prefer not to have a daughter of mine involved. However, if I had a daughter, and she was so inclined, I would not want her denied any position she is capable of earning. Secretary Carter, Lt. Haver, Capt. Griest, and Maj. Jaster led the way, and made that possible.

First Women of San Francisco

Last week my husband and I flew to San Francisco, into that rarefied air that can only be California. Our first stop was San Francisco, or the polyglot that columnist Herb Caen used to call Baghdad by the Bay (back when Baghdad had a romantic aura about it). As we traveled around the city, several First Women asserted themselves into my reflections —as strong women are wont to do.

On our way to Grace Cathedral, where we are always rewarded with inspiration, we walked to the cable car CABLE CARwaiting only a few blocks from our hotel. Little did I know that inspiration would strike even before we reached the Church. We secured a seat on the cable car, relatively easy to do on a Sunday morning outside of tourist season. The iron bar that reaches down to clamp the ever-rotating cable, giving the cable car conductor control over when the car halts and lurches forward, was only a few feet from my own hands. The wooden handle was polished from years of firm grips and I could almost see Maya Angelou, the first black woman to be a San Francisco streetcar conductor. I could visualize that determined young woman gripping the wooden handle with her gloved hand, and almost certainly greeting her riders as they jumped on board.

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Later, on a bus tour of the city with my brother and sisters, who had joined us in “The City,” we passed City Hall.The guide did not comment on its grizzly history, when Dan White entered the building and assassinated gay activist and city supervisor Harvey Milk, as well as Mayor George Moscone. This tragedy elevated Dianne Feinstein to the position of Mayor—the First Woman Mayor of San Francisco. (Feinstein later became the First Woman Senator from California.)

DSC_0036 - Version 2 My siblings, my husband and I sailed out to Alcatraz, that infamous prison of book and lore. The tour of the prison, narrated on an audiotape by a former warden, was sobering, but the history of Alcatraz is more than the history of a prison. The ruins of an old fort still hold fast to the hillside and remnants of the Native American occupation of the abandoned island in 1969 still demonstrate tribal efforts to be heard and honored. Pictures of the occupation reminded me of Wilma Mankiller who visited the island frequently, worked in the San Francisco command post, and raised money for the cause of respecting treaty rights. She wrote in her biography that the people she met there had “major and enduring effects on me.” The lessons she learned during that nineteen months put her on the road to the position of First Woman chief of the Cherokee Nation.

As I flew away from “The City,” and back to my writing, I wondered how many other First Women it had produced.


Afterthought: This site is about First Women, but one statement on a display at Alcatraz caught my eye and pricked my focus on First Women for a moment. Frank Weatherman, known as AZ 1576, was the Last Man to leave Alcatraz. “Alcatraz was never no good for nobody,” he said on the occasion.