AF General Touts Women's Role in the Military

Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star general in the Air Force and assumed the top position of Air Force Materiel Command on June 5, 2012.
Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star general in the Air Force and assumed the top position of Air Force Materiel Command on June 5, 2012.

During the 32 years Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger has been in the military, the number of women in the service has doubled and women can no longer be discharged for becoming pregnant or for adopting a child.

Wolfenbarger, the U.S. Air Force's first female four-star general, spoke about the advancement of women in the military Monday night as part of the Fayetteville State University's Chancellor's Distinguished Speaker Series.

Wolfenbarger is the military's second female officer to receive four stars behind Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, commander of Army Materiel Command, who retired in August.

Wolfenbarger serves as commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. She was commissioned in 1980 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and began her career in acquisition as an engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Wolfenbarger was among the more than 150 women who entered the Air Force Academy in June 1976, the first time women were allowed in the U.S. service academies.

Several male cadets were concerned about the admission of women into the academy, Wolfenbarger said.

"Their fear was that standards would somehow be lowered as a result of women being a part of the student body and that consequently their experience would some how be diminished," she said. "I, along with my female classmates, spent the next four years proving that the standards did not have to be lowered and that, not only could women survive, we could thrive."

Wolfenbarger said the academy put her in situations that stretched her academically, emotionally, physically and mentally.

"As I came out of the other end of those experiences, I realized that I was far more capable than I thought I could be," she said.

There were few military jobs open to women when Wolfenbarger began her career. Now, 99 percent of military careers are open to women. There is legislation that would lift the barrier for the remaining 1 percent, she said.

Wolfenbarger has held a variety of assignments at headquarters Electronic Security Command and Air Force Systems Command. She commanded ASC's C-17 Systems Group, Mobility Systems Wing. She was the service's director of the Air Force Acquisition Center of Excellence at the Pentagon.

Prior to her current assignment, Wolfenbarger was the military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon.

Wolfenbarger noted that 64 women serve as generals.

"Women have proven that we can succeed and that we can lead on every battlefield," she said.

Army ROTC cadet Tara Jaime, a junior majoring in sociology, said the general's comments about the advancement of women in the military were profound.

"To know that we have doubled the women serving in the military is really just an inspiration," Jaime said. "Seeing her (Wolfenbarger) at that level really does encourage me to aspire to do the best I can and to encourage female service members below me to do the same. She is such an outstanding leader and it lets me know our senior leadership recognizes that females can serve at that capacity."

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Women in the Military