OTIS AIR BASE — This has already been a historic week for breaking through glass ceilings, and Friday at Otis Air National Guard Base, Col. Virginia Doonan shattered some glass of her own.
Doonan, 49, became the first female wing commander in the history of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, which began as the 318th Fighter Group in 1942.
In a change-of-command ceremony inside a massive hangar at Otis, with her children Colleen and Peter, her parents and other family members on hand, Doonan smiled widely as she took over leadership of the 1,300 military and civilian staff from Brig. Gen. James LeFavor. LeFavor was promoted to that rank at a ceremony earlier in the afternoon and is taking a job at Massachusetts National Guard headquarters.
"I'm honored to be first woman to be a wing commander of this great wing, but it's not really about being a woman or a man, for me it's really about being the best leader and airman that I can be," Doonan said in an interview before Friday's ceremony. "It's been a fantastic career and I am so honored and humbled that I was selected to be the leader of this organization, because it's given so much to me."
During the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Robert Brooks, commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, acknowledged Doonan being the first woman commander. "Regardless of your color or your gender or your social class, that has no bearing on what you can be in these great United States," he said.
The military has provided opportunity for Doonan and has done it in a way where gender has never mattered. "You get paid by your rank. There is no gender gap in pay," Doonan said. "Everyone receives the same type of pay and receives the same type of opportunities. I would recommend the military to any young woman who was looking to make a career choice."
A native of Texas, Doonan came to Cape Cod on assignment three years into her active duty in the Air Force and liked what she saw. She joined the Massachusetts Air National Guard, settled in Falmouth and rose steadily through the ranks.
Doonan remembers first being enamored with the Air Force on a visit to San Antonio as a young teenager, but it was the recruitment advertisements on the radio that prompted her to enlist in 1986.
"I was just finishing up high school and really didn't have a good way to get to college financially," said Doonan, who now holds both bachelor's and master's degrees. "I always expected after four years to come back to family in Houston, but I fell in love with the military."
Doonan enjoyed her time in active duty, but it was during a temporary assignment at Otis as the base transitioned from F-106 to F-15 jets that she decided to join the Air National Guard.
"The people in Air National Guard were more mature, they didn't move around and it was the right kind of environment for me," she said.
Her 27-year career started as an avionics mechanic, transitioned into personnel and then switched again when the base's mission changed from a fighter wing to the intelligence wing in 2008.
"I miss the planes terribly, but I will tell you, what we do in intelligence, we make a difference every single day on what is going on abroad," Doonan said. "We do it very quietly and behind windowless buildings but it's very exciting what we bring to the table for the nation."
LeFavor, whose family was also in attendance, was credited with helping the 102nd make its transition from fighter wing to intelligence wing. "The thrash of mission change, that really began back in 2005, I'm confident in saying that thrash is over," he said. "We have new missions. ... We've got a steady course. That's now comforting after all this mission has endured."