Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel named an interim number two Tuesday: Christine Fox, who will be the highest-ranking woman in Pentagon history.
Fox will serve as acting deputy secretary at the Defense Department while the White House looks for a permanent replacement for the departing Ash Carter, who has called her “remarkably brilliant.” A long-time civilian defense expert, she served as director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office for four years before leaving this summer.
She also, in a pop culture twist, inspired the Kelly McGillis character in Top Gun.
Originally written as a groupie or (randomly) a gymnast, producers changed the part of Charlie to a civilian astrophysics expert after they were introduced to Fox.
At the time a civilian adviser to the admiral commanding airborne early-warning and fighter aircraft for the U.S. Pacific fleet, Fox was then the only woman working in the field for the Center Naval Analyses, of which she later became the president.
That information and so much more can be found in a 1985 People Magazine profile of Fox and the movie, including a lot of Quotes From A Different Era.
“To Navy aviators…the sight of Fox striding through headquarters is as enjoyable as a scared MiG pilot running for home,” People wrote.
“She’s the smartest woman I’ve ever met,” Capt. Monroe Smith told People. “I like women for a lot of things and being smart isn’t usually one of them.”
Though a mathematician and not an aviator, Fox was given the call sign of “Legs.” (By Smith.)
“She’s so professional that her looks don’t become a point of interest,” Comdr. Harry Hunter said. “When she walks in you say ‘wow,’ but 30 seconds later you’re talking business.”
“The reason it doesn’t bother me,” she told People of the comments about her looks, “is that it doesn’t interfere with the work. It’s just part of an attitude all aviators subscribe to, something they adopt as soon as they join the fighter community. If that prevented them from coming over and asking for help, then it would be a disaster. Anyway, I make fun of them for being macho creeps sometimes.”
(The article also contains this gem: “Cruise and McGillis meet during a lecture, and their love soars like a ground-to-air missile.”)
In 2013, the interim selection of Fox comes days after a Politico Magazine piece on criticism, including within the administration, of Hagel’s job performance.
Fox, who remained an unpaid consultant to Carter after she left Defense, is not expected to seek the job permanently. Michèle Flournoy, formerly the third in power and mentioned as a possible candidate for defense secretary last year, turned down entreaties about the job, according to Politico. Robert Work, a former naval undersecretary, is considered the top candidate.