Christine Fox, who inspired the Kelly McGillis role in the movie "Top Gun," has been called back to the Pentagon to serve as a temporary replacement for outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
In a statement Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that President Obama had accepted his recommendation for the appointment of Fox as Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense "pending the nomination and confirmation of a permanent successor" to Carter as the Defense Department's No. 2.
With her appointment, Fox, who left the Pentagon last June to join the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, immediately became the most senior woman at DoD.
The 6-foot-tall Fox was nicknamed "Legs" by the pilots at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, Calif., according to a People Magazine profile of Fox in 1985. The producers of "Top Gun" picked up on Fox's job as an adviser on aircraft carrier defense and used it to shape the role of "Charlie" as the love interest for Tom Cruise in the movie.
Hagel described Fox, who served most recently as the Pentagon's director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, as a "brilliant defense thinker and proven manager."
Fox was also a leader of DoD's recent Strategic Choices and Management Review where "she helped identify the challenges, choices, and opportunities for reform facing the Department during this period of unprecedented budget uncertainty," Hagel said.
In returning to the Pentagon, Fox "will be able to help me shape our priorities from day one because she knows the intricacies of the Department's budget, programs and global operations better than anyone," Hagel said.
By making Fox a temporary appointment, Hagel was sidestepping a potentially lengthy and divisive nomination process in the Senate, where Republicans are still seething over rules changes forced through by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to speed up President Obama's judicial appointments.
Carter, who will formally leave the Pentagon on Thursday, was stepping down after two years in the job. At his farewell ceremony in the Pentagon courtyard on Monday, Carter called Fox "remarkably brilliant."
Fox holds bachelor's and masters' degrees in mathematics from George Mason University, and has nearly three decades of experience as a defense researcher and analyst. She is a former president of the Center for Naval Analysis, a Navy think tank.
In a 2005 interview with the "Mason Gazette," published by her alma mater at George Mason, Fox said her interest in math came from her father, who was a Navy nuclear engineer.
"From a very early age, I was encouraged to consider math as an option. My father always said, 'If you can do math, you can do anything.' Math was never presented as something scary or too challenging," Fox told the Gazette. "It was presented not only as a fundamental tool, but as something great."
Fox also recalled that the original script for "Top Gun" had the McGillis character as a Navy officer but "the admiral assigned by the Navy to oversee the production had script approval" and the officer–officer romance was out of bounds.
"Then Bruckheimer suggested that the character could be an aerobics teacher at the Officer's Club," Fox said. The admiral came back with a counter-proposal -- "How about my CNA rep?" Fox went on to work closely with McGillis in developing the role.
"I later read a review panning ‘Top Gun' as being completely unrealistic that a civilian woman would work in such a macho environment," Fox said. "I thought about writing that reviewer a letter to set him straight."