by Desiree Palacios
Air Force News Service
10/25/2012 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The
Air Force's only female four-star general used examples from her
three-decade-plus career to show the tremendous progress of women in the
military during a gala dinner celebrating the 15th anniversary of the
Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Washington,
Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, Air Force Materiel Command commander, was
the keynote speaker for the dinner celebrating the more than two million
women who have served in the military.
Wolfenbarger was among the first group of women to graduate from the
U.S. Air Force Academy, in 1980, and told the audience of former and
current military women that there was a great fear in the beginning that
standards would somehow be lowered by allowing women to attend the
"So, I, along with my female classmates, spent four years proving that
the standards, in fact, would not have to be lowered, and that women
could not only survive, but actually thrive in that very challenging
environment," said Wolfenbarger.
In June of 1976, Wolfenbarger and 156 women entered the Air Force
Academy as the first female cadets in its history. She remembers that
first day as a sobering introduction into how the next four years would
unfold. "I remember...walking along a hallway, chit-chatting with
another female when an upper classman stopped us and physically threw us
against the wall. He got within inches of our faces and yelled, 'What
the hell are you doing talking in my hallway? ...It's safe to say that
during the whole first summer I was in a state of shock."
Wolfenbarger said that people are often curious about the number of
women who enrolled versus those who ultimately graduated from that first
class. She said that out of more than 150, 97 would go on to graduate,
about 10 percent of the class. "Women had the same attrition rate as was
traditional with all-male classes."
Sometimes asked whether she would go through it all again, Wolfenbarger
answers with a resounding yes. "It took me a while after graduation to
crystalize in my mind the value of the Academy experience. The
Academy...really stretched me mentally, emotionally and physically and I
came out the other side realizing that I was far more capable than I
ever thought I was. That knowledge brought with it a self confidence
that I have relied on throughout my military career, as well as in my
But as much as a trailblazer as she's been, Wolfenbarger has wanted to
be recognized, not for her accomplishments as a woman, but for simply
working hard and accomplishing the mission.
"I served in the acquisition business for most of my 30 plus years. I've
had the good fortune to work on the leading edge fighter, bomber and
transport aircraft programs in the Air Force. I worked on the F/A-22 for
eight-plus years, the B-2 bomber for five-plus years, including time as
director of the program. I was also director of the C-17 program for
two and a half years. I spent time at the Pentagon as the first female
and first non-fighter pilot lead F-22 program element monitor for three
She went on to tell the audience of more than 300 about assignments that
took her to the top levels of Air Force acquisition, both at the
Pentagon and later at the Air Force Materiel Command where served as the
vice commander for close to two years, before taking the role in the
Pentagon as the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air
Force for acquisition.
"So what did I learn? I may not always have a choice in what life
brings, but I do have a choice in how I respond. I can choose to be
positive or negative - and I've learned to consciously choose in every
case to react in the most positive manner I can."
Thanking the audience for their service, some dating back to World War
II, Wolfenbarger said that while women have doubled their ranks in the
Air Force, there's still room for improvement.
"The beautiful and thought-provoking 'Women in Military Service for
America Memorial' has for the last 15 years served as a symbol of
national gratitude in behalf of each of us, the more than 2 million
female veterans, active duty, Guard and Reserve who, not only survived
military service, but thrived."