Through a more than three-decade career punctuated by differing assignment locations, duties and ranks, Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger maintains that one constant has guided her career and will continue to as she transitions into her post as the service’s first female four-star general.
“I approach my Air Force service now the same way I have throughout my career, with the aim of doing the best job I can to accomplish the mission,” the Air Force Materiel Command commander said.
This guiding tenet also undoubtedly led her through her time at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where in 1980 she graduated as a member of the first class with female cadets. Inspired to apply for the service academy after her father – then an Air Force major – arrived home from work announcing that women were eligible to do so, Wolfenbarger submitted an application and got accepted.
Armed with her father’s advice that life as a cadet would entail being “stripped of your rights and having them handed back to you one at a time,” she also found her time there was one of profound growth. Encountering new challenges and pressures daily brought Wolfenbarger the opportunity to gain more knowledge about herself.
“The Academy put me in situations that stretched me – mentally, physically, emotionally and academically,” she said. “I came out on the other side of those experiences knowing I am far more capable than I ever thought I could be.”
Wolfenbarger’s learning, both academically and professionally, would continue well beyond her time at the Air Force Academy. In 1985 she earned a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 1994 she earned a master’s in national resource strategy from the National Defense University.
She began her career in acquisitions as an engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and has held a variety of assignments at headquarters Electronic Security Command and Air Force Systems Command, one of the predecessor commands to AFMC.
The general has held several positions in the F-22 System Program Office, served as the F-22 lead program element monitor, and was the B-2 system program director.
She also commanded the Aeronautical Systems Center’s C-17 Systems Group, Mobility Systems Wing, and was the service’s director of the Air Force Acquisition Center of Excellence at the Pentagon, then served as director of the headquarters AFMC Intelligence and Requirements Directorate here.
Wolfenbarger received her third star in December 2009 and became the Air Force’s highest-ranking woman in January 2010. She served as AFMC vice commander from December 2009 to September 2011.
“Spending the bulk of my career in AFMC – and its predecessor Air Force Systems Command – has given me a clear understanding of the mission and an appreciation for the caliber of the workforce,” she said. “It’s also reinforced for me just how critical AFMC support is to the overall Air Force mission.”
And she is grateful for the opportunities the Air Force has given her.
“I give the Air Force great credit for embracing diversity and allowing me and so many others to be part of a great team, not only at the Academy, but throughout my career,” she said.
Wolfenbarger said that increased diversity in the workforce benefits the Air Force as an institution.
“I’ve seen tremendous progress in the expansion of opportunities for women, just in the time I’ve been in service,” she said. “The number of women has almost doubled, and 99 percent of all career fields are now open to women.”
For the last two years, Wolfenbarger has been a key participant in the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium, where she has delivered keynote addresses and taken part in panel discussions about the relevance of women in the Department of Defense.
Though this newest AFMC commander will outline the command’s priorities shortly after her change of command ceremony June 5, she acknowledges the challenges facing the command as the Air Force contends with constrained budgets and enduring missions.
“There has probably been no better environment in my time in the Air Force in which to put forth good ideas, and have those good ideas get a sound hearing so that we can collectively respond to our part of the budget challenge,” she said.
“AFMC has already embraced finding ways to accomplish the mission more efficiently, while also preserving the welfare of our people – but we’re not finished yet.”