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News > Air Force pioneer, AFMC leader speaks at joint women's conference
AFMC vice commander speaks at women's symposium
Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger speaks to more than 130 Airmen on her experiences and lessons learned during the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium March 16, 2011, in San Diego, Calif. Military women from across the nation have gathered here March 15 and 16 to focus on professional development. General Wolfenbarger is the vice commander of the Air Force Materiel Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young)
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Air Force pioneer, AFMC leader speaks at joint women's conference

Posted 3/25/2011   Updated 3/25/2011 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young
Defense Media Activity

3/25/2011 - SAN DIEGO (AFNS)  --  An Air Force pioneer, who is now serving as the top-ranked woman in the Air Force, shared lessons learned during her 34-year career March 16, with more than 170 Airmen at the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium in San Diego.

The two-day symposium allowed women from each service branch to speak with their leaders and peers on past and present issues facing women in the military. Various accomplished senior military women, including Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the Air Force Materiel Command vice commander, spoke on topics in line with the symposium's theme "Connect, Empower, Succeed."

In 1976, General Wolfenbarger, then a cadet, exited a bus along with 156 other women onto the Bring Me Men ramp as the first female students to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1980, she and 97 others were the first female graduates.

It was an experience she said stretched her to her limits.

"(The Air Force Academy) was an opportunity for me to be stretched in so many ways: physically, mentally and emotionally," she said. "(It was an opportunity to) prove to myself that in fact I could withstand those kinds of experiences and come out on the other end realizing that I was far more capable than I ever thought I would be. That experience gave me a belief in myself that I have relied on ever since."

Having the confidence in yourself that you can do whatever the challenge requires is something that is just invaluable, she added.

After her time as an "80s lady" graduate from the Academy, the general said she spent most of her career in the acquisition business with her fingerprints on the F-22 Raptor, the B-2 Spirit and the C-17 Globemaster III programs, and she earned a Master of Science degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Throughout her career she did not want to be recognized because she was a woman, she told the audience.

"I wanted to do well and be recognized because I worked hard," she said. "I did the very best I could at every job I held."

During her speech she emphasized teamwork, taking care of people and providing the opportunity for every Airman to be a leader at every level.

Thirty years ago, women represented 10 percent of the workforce; today women represent nearly 20 percent of the Air Force and the service can do better, she said.

The general noted the importance of diversity and the progression she's seen during her time in the service.

When she first joined, there was an executive order in place that gave service officials permission to discharge a woman if she became pregnant, gave birth to a child or became a parent by adoption or a stepparent.

"Clearly we've made progress," she said. "We now have not only maternity leave, but also paternity leave for our service members.

"When I first joined there were a whole host of career fields that were closed to women, but we can now, as a service, proudly say that we have 97 percent of our career fields open to women.

"The generations today may not understand how much progress has been made in the past 30 years, but I think that they certainly benefit from that progress and there is still more progress to be made," she added.

"The folks who are in the Air Force now will have their own opportunities to continue to expand the opportunities for women in our Air Force," she said.

A common issue discussed at the symposium was the work/life balance that all service members strive to maintain.

"I think one of our challenges when we serve our country is that there is such a drive to support our nation in whatever mission we are assigned," she said. "I think there needs to be a constant reminder that we all have to search for that work/life balance because in the end it is our families, our friends and our health that we will have to rely on when our careers are over."

Participation in this symposium is a first for women serving in the Air Force and General Wolfenbarger said she has heard nothing but positive comments.

"I think what I'm finding is there is a hunger amongst the participants to have the opportunity to understand those folks who many have gone before them -- some of the senior leaders who are here -- and then some of their peers relative to their lessons, their experiences and perhaps things that they can learn to help them make better decisions in their careers," she said. "(The positive comments) bode well for our future participation."

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