Colonel paved path for women in aviation

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Then-Lt. Col. Stephane Wolfgeher, 309th Fighter Squadron commander, prepares for a mission at Luke Air Force Base. (Courtesy Photo)
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In 1995, the popular television shows were Friends, ER, Seinfeld and Frasier and the top singing groups on the charts were Mariah Carey, Bryan Adams, Tupac and Alanis Morissette. In May of that year, a young woman joined the Air Force and began carving a trail of accomplishments that, at the time, seemed almost impossible for a woman.

Col. Stephane Wolfgeher, a Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, native, is currently assigned to the Directorate for Operational Capability Requirements, Headquarters/A5R at the Pentagon.

“I am the deputy director and support the development of requirements to deliver air, space and cyberspace capabilities to the warfighter,” she said.

The road to her current position had a stop at Luke Air Force Base from 2011-14 as the 309th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and later commander from 2012-14.

Wolfgeher has fond memories of her time at Luke and spoke highly of those years.

“Leading a squadron responsible for teaching the next generation of F-16 fighter pilots and instructors was so rewarding,” she said. “The dedication and commitment from both the students and the instructors was absolutely the reason for going in day after day, regardless of the hours. I couldn’t have been prouder of the team.”

Wolfgeher said the most satisfying part of her years at Luke was how successful many of the people who served here became.

“It is a great thing to see, as I have run across so many of my squadron mates and students, the amazing accomplishments they have achieved and the great officers they have become in our Air Force.”

Anyone in the military realizes their career can take them to anywhere in the world, including a war zone.

Wolfgeher spent time in Afghanistan assigned to the 455th Operations Group, an assignment she remembers with great fondness.

“This assignment was by far the best of my career,” she said. “I was able to lead a group of diverse individuals and assets in combat operations and was able to see the results of our activities daily.”

These individuals and assets included C-130s, Aeromedical Evacuation, EC-130s, pararescuemen/HH-60s/CH-47s, F-16s and operations support, she said.

Wolfgeher’s leadership led to important changes.

“We as a team were able to fundamentally change the way we did operations in many areas to better provide support to our ground forces, and that was principally based on the trust and delegation of authority of our leaders to do what needed to be done,” she said. “While I believed in that way of doing business — delegation to the lowest level — I was struck by how much our people could accomplish in that environment if it was fully embraced by the entire team and chain of command.”

As with any significant changes, there are unique and difficult challenges.

“It wasn’t all rosy, because we had some struggles and challenges to overcome, but it was worth it at the end of a day when we could look back at ourselves and say we’d done all we could to support our forces,” she said.

However, certain events made her realize the vital importance of what her team was doing.

“I still remember the first and unfortunately not the last fallen soldier transfer, and it brought home even more the importance of what we were doing each day and why. It’s an experience I will never forget.”

Finally, Wolfgeher reflected on the changes in the Air Force that opened doors to people that were once closed.

“I have always been a proponent for standards determining whether one could or could not do something and ensuring the standards are in line with what the mission requires,” she said. “I was fortunate growing up that my parents always supported whatever I wanted to do and never told me that ‘girls don’t do X.’ The opening up of opportunities that were traditionally closed to women has only provided a greater pool of candidates from which to select the best qualified individuals.”

She added that the military has provided, throughout history, unique standards and opportunities.

“In our line of business, having someone in a position only because of who they are, without regard to standards, can have catastrophic results,” she said. “That to me is what the military has provided throughout history, an opportunity to judge people on what they can accomplish and not who they are. The opening up of positions epitomizes the ethos of equal opportunity.”

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