My Town Monday: Girls Rule… in the Air Force!

I’ve been considering a new direction for Mondays on the blog, which will probably include making My Town a once- or twice-a-month feature, rather than every week. But an announcement I read last week was just too cool to pass up: this summer, the  U.S. Air Force will see its first female four-star general – and she’s from the Dayton area!

General Janet C. Wolfenbarger

She’ll also serve here, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where she’s already spent over half of her 32 years of service. Now a Lieutenant General, Janet C. Wolfenbarger works in acquisitions at the Pentagon, a suitable step before taking the lead at  Air Force Materiel Command, which is headquartered at Wright-Patt. AFMC oversees acquisition and logistics, in addition to research and development, and support and sustainment programs for aircraft and weapons systems.

General Wolfenbarger has a long history with the Air Force. Not only has she spent over half her life in service, she was a military kid, with a father in the Air Force. Her husband also served many years as a pilot before retiring in 2006.

Born Janet Libby in Florida, her family moved several times before her dad was assigned to Wright-Patt just in time for her to spend her high school years at Beavercreek High School. While there, she and several classmates started a girls’ soccer team, which eventually evolved into the current, official school team and was the start of her decades of leadership. In 2004, she was inducted into the Beavercreek High School Alumni Hall of Fame.

General Wolfenbarger's past service at WPAFB included managing the B-2 program

When she graduated from Beavercreek in 1976, the Air Force Academy was just beginning to accept women, and Janet Libby graduated in the academy’s first class that included women. She then went on to earn several masters degrees, including one in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2009, she received her third star, and became the highest-ranking woman in the Air Force.

General Wolfenbarger’s story is certainly inspirational. She’s proof that with determination, confidence, and simply doing one’s best in a job, one can go far. She hopes more young women will consider the Air Force as a career, one she calls “extraordinarily rewarding and challenging.” And with her new assignment, she’s glad to return to Dayton, and said, “I feel as though I am coming home.”

Congratulations to General Wolfenbarger, and best wishes for continued success in her new assignment!

You can read more about General Wolfenbarger in the Dayton Daily News, as well as on the official U.S. Air Force website.

I’d love to hear from you! Have you heard or read any inspiring girls-rule stories lately? What do you think of General Wolfenbarger’s story?

With Honor and Appreciation

Col. Wilcox with his wife and daughter, following the end of WWII

Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. Originally called Armistice Day to celebrate victory in WWI, the holiday was declared by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during that war. It was later expanded to include all veterans, including those who served and survived.

I’d like to honor one of the latter, the late Colonel Robert E. Wilcox, my husband’s grandfather. Col. Wilcox was the highly decorated pilot of a B-29 bomber, and served in Army Air Corps during WWII, and later in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean conflict.

He was a two-time POW. The first time, he was held in northern Japan in a concentration camp, and wasn’t released until Japan’s defeat. He’d been presumed dead for nearly a year by then – the military already had a headstone made for him and planned for placement in Arlington Cemetery. It was due to the efforts of the Red Cross that he was rescued at the war’s end, and this was something he never forgot. One of his hands was broken in multiple places, and he also credited the Red Cross for getting him prompt medical attention and for arranging multiple, complex (for the time) surgeries that restored to him the full use of his hand.

Despite his harrowing experience, he went on to serve in Korea a few years later, and again was taken prisoner.

Colonel Wilcox’s accomplishments were many. The medals shown here recognize some of the missions and campaigns he served in during both wars. The Purple Heart was, of course, for the wounds he suffered while a prisoner of war. The medal on the upper right states was “Awarded for Honorable Service while a Prisoner of War, for the United States of America.” He also was recognized for completing 25 missions as a bomber pilot, denoted by the medal in the center on the top row. The lower center medal is for “Service in Defense of the Principles of the Charter of the United Nations” during his service in Korea.

He also was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star.

Grandpa never talked about these awards, or his time in the military. Despite his achievements and service, he always seemed to regard it as a duty, simply something one did.

He always kept busy. After he retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service, he went to work as an electrical engineer for NCR, until his retirement from there 25 years later. Throughout his life, Grandpa Wilcox was always committed to serving others, and never forgot what others had done for him. He flew for the Civil Air Patrol during the 70s, and later, volunteered for the Red Cross along with his wife, my husband’s grandma Mary. When I met my husband in the early 90s, they volunteered a couple days a week, taking elderly people who were unable to drive, to doctors’ appointments, the grocery store or other necessary errands. They were also active in their church, and participated in activities to help others. They served in this capacity into their late seventies, until forced to stop by their own health issues.

Grandpa passed away in 2002, at the age of 84, two years after Grandma’s passing. Although I only knew him for the last ten years of his life, I consider that a privilege. It’s because of him and others like him, that we continue to enjoy the freedoms we have today.

I’m also privileged to have several friends, neighbors and coworkers who served, and to all of them I’m grateful.

Who will you thank tomorrow?