The Defining Generation
Defining the Role of the Sexes
Lieutenant General Carol Mutter
IT would seem there was nothing in the early life of Carol Ann Schneider to indicate that one day she would become a United States Marine, much less one of the highest ranking women General Officer in any branch of U.S. Military Service. Born in Greeley, Colorado, in 1945 and raised on a small farm outside the rural community of Eaton, she describes her family as "lower-middle class…at best." Her parents were sharecroppers--they didn't even own the farm on which they labored long and hard. The focus of their efforts were their two children, Carol and her brother, whom Mr. and Mrs. Schneider planned for and hoped would one day go to college.
Both children grew up working hard beside their parents. "We both helped out on the farm: hoeing weeds in the bean crop, following behind the sugar beet harvester and picking up beets it missed, etc.," Carol recalls. "We certainly learned the value of a dollar and the necessity of hard work."
In the small rural school where she began her preparations for college Carol approached her studies with the same work ethic she had learned in the fields. She enjoyed learning and her educational process was a pleasant one. "Mrs. Frank was my Junior High math teacher," she says fondly, "and I loved math. She had two children just a few years older than we were, and I remember clearly one day she said that all children should be locked in a closet when they turn 13 and shouldn't be let out until they turn 20. In today's context it sounds a bit scary, but back then it was funny and conveyed how difficult, even back then, she thought it was to raise kids through their teenage years." Mrs. Frank became one of Carol's early role models, working not only as a mother to raise her own children but as a teacher to impart knowledge to the children of other families. With another male teacher in the school, she was Carol's class co-sponsor and worked with her all the way through high school.
If, in fact, there was any indication that Carol Ann Schneider would one day shatter a "glass ceiling" she was not even yet aware existed for women, it was rooted in her simple approach to life--do what you enjoy and be good at it. Her interests beyond school included 4-H where she had projects that were both garden and livestock (steers). She was also a member of the Girl Scouts. Church was also very important in the Schneider family, all of these contributing to the values she learned and used as the foundation for her life. "They are also values consistent with the values of the Marine Corps," she is now quick to point out.
Because Women's Liberation had not yet become a movement to break down barriers based on gender, Carol was not then, nor would she become later, an activist. Rather, the young girl's one desire was to find a role in life that she enjoyed, involving tasks at which she was capable, and then to do her best in that role. Slowly, as that role developed, it became what she often now tells audiences "Is truly an Only in America story."
When Carol graduated from high school in 1963 in a class that numbered only 42 Seniors, "Most young women thought their options were limited to secretary, teacher or nurse," she recalls. "I went to college to become a teacher." Majoring in Mathematics Education at the University of Northern Colorado, she envisioned herself in a traditional woman's role, following in the footsteps of her early mentor Mrs. Frank and standing in front of a classroom full of children to impart to them the education they would need to find their own success in life. During her Junior year however, she chanced to meet a Marine Recruiter on campus, a WOMAN Marine, and her curiosity was piqued.
When Carol volunteered to attend the Marine Corps' Woman Officer Candidate Course (WOCC) during the summer break in 1966 it was not intended to be a change of course in her life. In a sense that military schooling was more of a proving ground, summer camp for girls with a military twist. "It was just a summer commitment, I received pay and got to see the Nation's Capitol." Unlike male counterparts who were subject to the draft at that time and had to enlist and commit to three or more years of active duty for such military training, women were invited to Quantico, Virginia, to "test the waters" of military service, after which they were free to return to school, civilian jobs, or other pursuits. This is in fact, just one more example of the gender-based approach to military service in the mid-1960s that was soon to become revolutionized in the United States.
The fact that the Marine Corps WOCC was a boot camp without a long-range military commitment should not be misconstrued to indicate that the course was easy. Upon arriving Carol's first thought was, "What have I gotten myself into?" Furthermore, this was the U.S. Marines where young men training for combat duty in Vietnam were quick to point out, "The Marines are part of the Department of the Navy…the MEN'S DEPARTMENT!" Years later when asked why she had chosen the Marines over the Army, Navy or Air Force, Carol replied simply, "They're the best!"
At that time the growing war in Vietnam was demanding more and more young men for combat duty, and manpower needs at home and in other support roles were being increasingly filled with women volunteers. The 1966 WOCC class was one of the largest ever and it was the first time the class was increased from two to three platoons. "They ran out of my size tennis shoes," Carol recalls, "so I had to wear my white flats for marching the first couple of weeks."
No doubt at that time
there were many REAL Marines…meaning men…who would have found
the sight both comical and a validation of their own prejudice. After
all, these were only women. Some of the young ladies in her group
did wash out, unable to make the grade even in an all-woman training
class. Others, their curiosity sated, would return home to school,
civilian jobs, or domestic roles. A few did go on to subsequently become
Marines but even then, it was be under special conditions. If while
serving they became pregnant or married a man with children under the
age of 18 they would be forced to resign. If they stayed in the Corps
and succeeded in making it a career, by law they could advance no higher
than O-6, Colonel. In fact, the Marine Corps had only one female
Colonel, the Director of Women Marines.
Carol was among those who successfully finished the course, and then she returned to finish her Senior year of college as a student teacher. It was an adjustment after even just a brief summer in uniform. "I was initially surprised when I began student teaching after my summer at OCS when the students did not all stand at attention when I walked into the room," she recalls. Her summer stint as a woman Marine had proven to be a role she enjoyed and now she believed Marine Corps service was something she would be good at. When she graduated with a baccalaureate degree she was commissioned an officer of Marines, prompting her male college advisor to remark, "What a waste!"
Just as Carol was completing the Women's Officer's Basic Course in 1967, the U.S. Military began its most sweeping changes since the end of World War II. That year the 2% cap on women in military (Marine Corps policy was 1%) was lifted, as was the prohibition against women ascending beyond the rank of Colonel. "A lot of the evolutionary changes regarding women's roles in the military happened at the same time similar changes were happening in our society," she points out. "The military reflected that, and, in some cases, led that."
Becoming a General Officer however, was the furthest thing from Second Lieutenant Schneider's* life at that time, even in the face of new opportunity for women. "At that time if anyone would have said that I'd still be in the Marine Corps 30 years later, let alone that I'd be a Three-Star General, I'd have said they were crazy." Her plan was simply to fulfill a three-year commitment, then return to civilian life and a teaching career. Indeed, perhaps, the most incredible careers are those that are unplanned and that simply evolve out of opportunity, dedication, and hard work.
Lieutenant Schneider's first assignment was to the data processing installations at Quantico, Virginia, and at Camp Pendleton, California. There was nothing precedent-setting in that, this was a job that could be performed by either a man or a woman Marine and, in fact, it was an integrated work place. The fact that a female officer filled that job slot DID free up some other young (male) lieutenant to perhaps serve in Vietnam during a period when the military philosophy was that women soldiers, sailors and Marines were "left in the rear with the gear." That disparity aside, the Marine Corps (and other branches of service) were light years ahead of the private sector. In the military services men and women received equal pay for what was equal rank. Fact is nonetheless, the salary benefits being equal, most women had to work harder than male counterparts to succeed. Furthermore, they were hindered in opportunity because of limitations on the types of jobs they could be assigned to.
"Very early in my career I did feel that as a female Lieutenant I had to prove myself more than a male Lieutenant did," she says. Not always was her presence welcomed, and not entirely was the coolness strictly gender-based. "All new Marines whether male or female become part of a fraternity wherein each person must demonstrate their character and worth," she points out. "I thought I did have to prove myself more than a male. Troops knew what kind of training the male officer went through to earn his rank; they weren't so sure about the female's training. The Marine Corps is small and your own community is even smaller. It doesn't take long to earn a reputation (for good or ill) that precedes you wherever you go. I always felt that if I acted like I belonged there, I would be treated like I belonged. That turned out to be true."
On June 11, 1970, Army Colonel Anna May Hays made history when she received the star of a Brigadier General, the first woman in history to become a General Officer. The other branches soon followed suit although it would be yet eight years before Colonel Margaret Brewer would become the first woman Marine Corps Brigadier General. While this was exciting news for women in uniform, even then Carol did not envision rising to such rank nor had she yet made a decision to make a career out of being a Marine. "I just kept enjoying what I was doing, feeling it was worthwhile, and getting promoted, so I stayed," she explains.
In 1971 First Lieutenant Schneider returned to Quantico as one of two Platoon Commanders and as an instructor for Woman Officer Candidate and Woman Officer Basic Courses. It was a platform from which an activist might have been tempted to become aligned with the burgeoning women's liberation movement in American society, urging incoming new women Marines to active efforts to expand their roles. Lieutenant Schneider however, was no activist. She was, instead, an EXAMPLE. Her only cause was mission oriented--to do her job as a Marine, to do it well, and to contribute to the team.
"I was very much aware that I was training women who, although not likely to deploy to Vietnam, were going to have jobs in the Marine Corps that provided essential support to those who would deploy," she explains. "For example, we had women in Air Traffic Control at the time who could be stationed at training bases helping to train pilots who would deploy. We also had women in supply who would be responsible for processing requisitions and getting supplies to those in the front lines. There are other similar examples. There are no unimportant jobs in the Marine Corps and, in time of war, none that aren't related in some way to support of the war effort. It is still true today!"
The job was serious business with far-reaching implications, critical in time of war. Lieutenant Schneider approached her responsibilities, not as a woman training women, but as a Marine training other Marines. She failed to see the humor one day when, as a prank, someone stole the sign in front of the women's barracks. Because the classes alternated, that sign was hung on simple hooks that allowed it to be easily changed, depending on which class was in session. It also made theft a quick and relatively easy task.
A day or two later the Company Commander in the nearby (male) Basic School was touring the students' quarters when he found the missing sign. That officer happened to be married to Carol's comrade, the Platoon Commander for the other group of women in training. He called and asked the two women officers how they wanted to handle the incident. They requested that the offending male students be ordered to report to their office with the pilfered sign. "They did so and acted rather nonchalant about it," Carol remembers. "They swaggered in as though this was all a big joke."
As senior Platoon Commander, it was Lieutenant Schneider's responsibility to address the problem and the two young men's cocky attitude. She met their gaze, not woman to man but Marine to Marine and ordered them to stand at attention. Their smirks quickly vanished as, "I proceeded to 'explain' to them that they were now Marine Corps officers and no longer in college; 'fraternity pranks' were inappropriate if they wanted to be leaders of Marines." It may well have been one of the best lessons they ever received on the subject of leadership. Though their infraction could have brought charges, the two women Platoon Commanders pursued the matter no further. "I felt the chewing out was adequate for the 'crime'," says Carol.
Hard work and a positive attitude paid off for Lieutenant Schneider. In reviewing her career decades later Marine General Charles C. Krulak, then climbing a fast-track career to become the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1995, remembered both her and her work ethic well. "Let me tell you about (Carol Mutter)," he told the Indianapolis Star in 2003. "She is extremely bright, articulate, works very hard. She understands that light bulbs were invented so you can work at night. She would do windows. No task was beneath her, and she was a very straight shooter. When she made up her mind, she was determined."[i]
She completed her assignment at WOC/WOBC in 1973 as a Captain of Marines. Her new duty took her back to Camp Pendleton to serve in the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity where she found that as a woman Marine she was not only welcomed, she was LOVED. Colonel James Jim Mutter, one of Carol's co-workers, found that he not only enjoyed sharing in her professional life but that he wanted to be part of her personal life. Ultimately as a fellow officer, sometimes a mentor, and always a loving husband, he would become important to both.
Teamwork is the key to success in any aspect of life and perhaps more so in the military. No person can achieve great things alone --success demands a team effort for the common good. Carol noted as much in her observations of women's roles in military when she said, "I feel that having women and others from differing backgrounds and perspectives involved in the planning and execution of any military mission is a distinct advantage. The result is that more ideas and options are presented and considered--the final result is much better than it would be otherwise." Perhaps no where would that mantra become more validated than in her relationship with Jim Mutter. The two were married in the Base Chapel at Camp Pendleton in May 1977.
Combining marriage and career presented some unique challenges of its own, far beyond the potential for an inter-marriage rivalry between two promising now Majors of Marines. With great foresight they asked the serious question "What if?" before they ever said "I do."
"I'm always saying what a 'win-win' person Carol is," remarks Jim Mutter. "She is always looking for the best solution for all concerned. I told her while dating that I genuinely appreciated her beauty, but that I was absolutely overwhelmed by her demeanor, approach to problem solving, and by her brain." With a practical approach they addressed the tough questions before them, Carol noting:
§ ON CAREER: "We decided at the time that since (Jim) had 4 more years than I did (14 at the time), his career would take precedence over mine until he had 20 years and could retire. Then, if I was still on active duty, my career would take precedence until I could retire."
§ ON SEPARATION: "We also decided that we could accept a one-year separation. It was not unusual at the time for Marines to have one year overseas unaccompanied tours. Longer than a year, we'd have to discuss when it came up, because we felt our marriage was important enough that the Marine Corps wouldn't necessarily take precedence."
§ ON THE FUTURE: "After we both had 20 years, we'd look at BOTH our careers and do what was best at the time."
To state that Colonel James Mutter played a critical role in the unprecedented military success of Lieutenant General Carol Mutter is to take nothing away from the young woman herself. Rank is "merit-based" and the bright, hard working young Marine from Colorado achieved her place in Leatherneck history based upon her own personality, values, abilities, and dedication to the mission. Humbly she asks the rhetorical question: "So, how did I make it to the top, against all odds? The bottom line is, great support from family, friends and other Marines. My husband, also a Marine, was my best mentor."
Jim's help was often in simple but practical matters, occasionally providing male insights that helped Captain Mutter adapt to her role in a community that was macho, masculine, and 95% male. He pointed out for instance, that when she spoke during meetings her voice sounded soft, as if she lacked confidence. In fact, even many male leaders have to learn what the military calls "command voice." Captain Carol Mutter learned it well. The two also collaborated for the good of both marriage and career. Planning 18 months in advance they worked together with monitors at Marine Corps Headquarters who issued transfer orders to proactively seek out assignments that would fit in with both their futures as Marine officers and their desire to spend their lives together.
In 1988 the "What If?" question the Mutters had not thought to ask a decade earlier as they planned their marriage and careers suddenly arose. It was a scenario they could not have imagined or predicted; Jim's son by a previous marriage was stricken with Leukemia. Now a Marine Corps Colonel, Jim Mutter requested a "humanitarian transfer" in order to be closer to the son who lived in Albuquerque. The Marines found Colonel Jim Mutter a job at the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but there was no position open for his wife, now Lieutenant Colonel Carol Mutter, a veteran of 21 years of service and leadership and a Colonel select. With a "family-comes-first" value judgment she prepared to retire from her promising career when, at the last moment, a position was found for her at the same duty station.
At the Space Command Colonel Carol Mutter joined the J-3 (Operations) Directorate, becoming the first woman to gain qualification as a Space Director. When Colonel Jim Mutter was slated for a more visible staff command than that held by his wife, he went to the J-3 Admiral and requested that the two Colonel Mutters' positions be reversed so that Colonel Carol Mutter would have "more visibility." If seen as a self-deprecating action it was not; it was simply practical and more importantly it was the right thing to do. "I HAD to be the one to make a point of asking for her to have the more visible assignments because in those days, the male always got first choice," he explains. Carol Mutter's continuing rise in the Corps not only benefited the Mutter future, it was good for the Marine Corps and for scores of young women who might follow in her footsteps and benefit from her example.
The Admiral consented and, "As we were both equally qualified, this was accomplished and served my career well," says Carol.
When the two now-Senior Colonels were transferred to the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) on Okinawa, Japan, in 1990, Colonel Jim Mutter had climbed about as high as he could in Marine Corps Leadership. Because he was in Air Command and Control, with a financial management advanced degree, there was little chance he would get a "star." His seniority in rank over his wife however, slated him to become Comptroller of a more senior organization than the one for which his wife was also slated to serve as Comptroller. He told Carol, "You need to go to (the more senior organization) and get the higher visibility. YOU have a chance to make General and I don't." Again his boss and the senior financial manager at Headquarters Marine Corps, consented and the results would prove historic for all branches of U.S. Military, and of great value to Jim's beloved Corps. Again, it was the RIGHT thing to do.
Colonel Jim Mutter still had a couple of months remaining in his assignment at Okinawa when, in 1991 his wife was reassigned. He took leave long enough to return with her Marine Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where General Al Gray, Commandant of the Marine Corps, pinned the gleaming silver star of a Brigadier General on her uniform. He was assisted by General Carol Mutter's proud mother and her equally proud husband.
Carol Mutter admits, "I had mixed feelings when my promotion to General meant I would outrank my husband. But when we discussed it, he made it absolutely clear that this was not a problem for him, so I shouldn't let it be a problem for me."
"I was excited about her success and wanted to help her however I could," Jim is quick to point out. "At one point I heard a couple of Colonels talking and one complained that 'She got my star' when she was selected for Brigadier General. I said to them, 'Gentlemen, she was deep selected. There were nine other Colonels in your zone, any one of which may have got your star. You just weren't competitive."
Colonel Jim Mutter then returned to Okinawa to finish his assignment while his wife, Brigadier General Carol Mutter, went on to Quantico as Deputy Commander, Marine Corps Systems Command. When his assignment there was fulfilled he rejoined his wife and served as Chief of Staff for the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. In 1993 with more than 30 years of dedicated service to the United States of America, he retired from the Corps. His service to his wife however, continued.
While serving as a Brigadier General at Quantico, Carol was slated to become a deputy Installations and Logistics officer at Headquarters, Marine Corps. Throughout her life she had dutifully accepted every task that was assigned to her, performing it to the best of her ability and placing mission before self and career. She felt however, that this new post was not the right assignment for her or her abilities. Jim discussed her feelings about the matter and advised his wife to at least visit with the Commandant and provide him her own insight, "After all," he reminded her, "he's the one who makes decisions on General Officer assignments."
"I requested an appointment with the Commandant and discussed my thoughts and concerns," she recalls. "When he asked me what job I thought I should have I told him 'The Third Force Service Support Group.' This would be a ground-breaking assignment for women in the military, and the Marine Corps would be the first to make it happen. I explained my qualifications for the job and, after a few days, the Commandant told me I had the job." When she returned to Okinawa in June 1992 to Command the Third Force Service Support Group, III MEF, she became the first woman general/flag officer in history to command a major deployable tactical command. Two years later upon returning to Washington, D.C., Marine Corps Commandant General Carl Mundy pinned a second star on Carol Mutter, again with the proud assistance of her mother and her husband, as she became the Marine Corps' first woman Major General and the senior woman in all branches of U.S. Military Service at that time.
Major General Carol Mutter achieved such success, not because she sought it and directed her career in a manner compatible with lofty goals. She says, "I've never thought of myself as a pioneer. I always tried to do my job and do it to the best of my abilities. I focused on accomplishing the mission, rather than my career. I think the word 'ambition' has negative connotations for both men and women. Ambition can imply being concerned about one's own career to the exclusion of everything else, including doing the best you can at your job. In the military we distinguish between 'careerism', which is self-centered (and what I equate to 'ambition') and 'career planning', which includes the normal steps one takes in ensuring you are prepared for the next step in your career path. For Marines, the two responsibilities we have are to accomplish the mission and take care of our people. Taking care of ourselves and our careers are far behind these two main goals."
For Major General Carol Mutter, success came neither by accident or by design…it was the naturally evolving product of being a good Marine and doing her job well. In 1996 on the parade field at Quantico, Virginia, with her mother and husband present once again, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles Krulak pinned a third star on Carol Mutter. "He made it a point to tell me I was NOT selected because I was a female, but because I was the best Marine for the job--Deputy Chief of Staff (now called Deputy Commandant) of the Marine Corps for Manpower and Reserve Affairs--the largest Headquarters, Marine Corps staff agency."
On that date Carol Mutter, once a simple but hardworking girl who grew up on a farm in rural Colorado with dreams of some day being a teacher, became the first woman from any branch of U.S. military service in history to be nominated to be a Lieutenant General in our Military Forces. She retired from the Marine Corps on January 1, 1999, after more than 31 years of.
General Mutter has joined Linda Alvarez in the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame and received numerous military and civilian awards including, in 2005, the Secretary of Defense Award for Outstanding Leadership. Success however, is its own greatest reward, bestowed for hard work and dedication.
"While I was, of course, honored to be the first woman in the Marine Corps to reach the rank of three-star general," she tells young people today, "my joy in that promotion came from what it allowed me to do for Marines and their families. There will continue to be firsts. The more complete integration of women into the services and into all specialties is an ongoing process. If nothing else, we can count on the fact that there will continue to be change.
"There are still challenges, but women today are holding their own, and then some, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world."
as the result of her first marriage, Carol's surname was Wiescamp
until her marriage ten years later to Major Jim Mutter.
Gelarden, R. Joseph, "Breaking Barriers," The
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