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AFMC commander speaks to students, veterans
Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, speaks to a crowd at Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, N.C., Nov. 5, 2012, as part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Wolfenbarger shared her story about being one of the first female cadets to enter the Air Force Academy to inspire FSU students to reach their goals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Aubrey White)
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AFMC commander speaks to students, veterans at Fayetteville State University

Posted 11/8/2012   Updated 11/8/2012 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Aubrey White
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/8/2012 - FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- The Air Force's first female four-star general shared her experiences as a woman in the military with a crowd of students and veterans at Fayetteville State University Nov. 5, 2012.

Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, spoke as a part of FSU's Chancellor's Distinguished Speaker Series.

"The Chancellor's Distinguished Speaker Series seeks to bring in those who serve as examples to not only our students but to other members of this community," said Dr. James Anderson, FSU chancellor. "(Wolfenbarger) represents someone who wanted to become the standard for other women in the armed forces to follow."

Wolfenbarger was selected to represent the military as one of seven renowned speakers in the series and spoke about the impact military conflict has on veterans who reside in the area.

"We owe all veterans an eternal debt," she said. "They have remained unwavering in their commitment to duty, honor and country in peace-time and in war. May we remain grateful and humbled by their sacrifices in service to our nation."

The general recalled a life-changing day during her senior year of high school when her father came home and informed her of the legislation that passed allowing women to enter training at military academies for the first time. She took this unexpected opportunity and challenged herself to get accepted and see how well she could perform in the academy environment.

"Despite being a military brat, I really didn't have a clue what the service academies were all about," she said. "When I asked my dad he said, 'they're going to strip you of all your rights and hand them back to you, one at a time,' and I remember telling my dad, 'I'm an American and no one can take my rights away from me.'"

According to the general, she quickly learned what he meant and recalled an interaction with an upperclassman on her first day at the academy to be a more than sobering introduction to what the next four years would be like.

Although Wolfenbarger and more than 150 women became the first female cadets in its history to enter the Air Force Academy, only 97 would go on to graduate. Women had nearly the same attrition rate as the all-male classes that had come before, she said.

"I'm sometimes asked if I would do it all over again, given the opportunity and my answer has always been yes, if I were that young and naive again," she said.

The general also shared experiences from multiple assignments during her 32 years in the Air Force, to include three assignments at the Pentagon. She said she was fortunate to learn and grow from every position entrusted to her.

Wolfenbarger concluded her speech with examples of advances women have made in the Air Force since she joined. She highlighted advancements, which gave female Airmen the opportunities to work in most Air Force career fields, as well as the ability to continue their service after becoming mothers.

"I firmly believe that America has built its strength on diversity," she said. "Women have proven that we can lead on every battlefield."

Immediately following Wolfenbarger's speech, she and the chancellor fielded questions from the audience during what they called a "fire-side chat."

The general answered questions about her experience at the Air Force Academy, future deployments and minorities in the military.

"We'd love to recruit you, we'd love to train you and we'd love to keep you for 20 or 32 years," she said when responding to an audience member's question. "If you were to come in and (serve four years), we would say thank you for your service."

Wolfenbarger also took time to give extra advice to admiring Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets. She reinforced having a positive attitude, and following the instruction of their leaders.

"I think it is so important to appreciate the blessings that we have in this country, and I think you best appreciate those in serving your country," Wolfenbarger said.

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