Defense Media Network

President Nominates USAF’s First Female Four-Star, USACE Promotes First Female General

On Feb. 6, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that President Barack Obama had nominated Lt. Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger to the rank of general, and as commander of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

If confirmed by the Senate, Wolfenbarger would become the U.S. Air Force’s first female four-star general, and the military’s second female officer to receive four stars following Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, commander of Army Materiel Command, who was promoted to general in 2008.

“The secretary strongly supports the president’s nomination, and he believes that Gen.Wolfenbarger is an outstanding Air Force officer,” said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. “The fact that she would be the first woman to wear a fourth star in the Air Force, if confirmed, is a testament to her skills, experience, and dedication.”

Within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham became the first woman to be promoted to general officer in a ceremony that took place just days earlier on Jan. 27 at USACE Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp (Ret.), former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) chief engineer, administers the oath of office to Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham during her promotion ceremony at USACE Headquarters, Jan. 27, 2012. Burcham’s husband Jay Burcham, chief of staff of the Department of Defense Education Activity (left), and her son, John Tubesing, stand behind her. Photo by F.T. Eyre

Burcham, commander of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, said, “This promotion has given me the opportunity to keep serving for several more years, and to keep doing a job that I’m passionate about. This will also give me a chance to showcase the Corps. As the first female engineer general officer, I am already getting invitations to speak at events. There is so much good that the Corps does, and I will use the opportunities that I’m given to get that word out,” she added.

Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, former USACE chief engineer, hosted the ceremony, saying, “This is an historic day. In the future, you will tell people, ‘I was there when we promoted the first woman to general officer in the Corps of Engineers.’”

Wolfenbarger, a 1980 Air Force Academy graduate, began her career in acquisitions as an engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. She has held a variety of assignments at headquarters Electronic Security Command and Air Force Systems Command. She has had oversight of the F-22 Raptor program at Wright-Patterson and in the Pentagon, and was program director for B-2 aeronautical systems at Wright-Patterson. She commanded the Aeronautical Systems Center’s C-17 Systems Group, Mobility Systems Wing.

Wolfenbarger was director of the Air Force Acquisition Center of Excellence at the Pentagon, then served as director of the Headquarters AFMC Intelligence and Requirements Directorate at Wright-Patterson. She is currently the vice commander of AFMC.

She holds master’s degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in national resource strategy from the National Defense University.

In September, Burcham became the first woman selected to command a USACE division when she took her current post. The division consists of seven engineer districts that include more than 4,800 personnel operating in a 17-state region with the responsibility for the federal water resource development throughout the Great Lakes and Ohio River basins.

Burcham received her commission at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1982. She later received a master’s in computer science from Kansas State University. Her military education includes the Engineer Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms Services Staff School, the Command and General Staff Officers Course, and the Senior Service College, Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Her previous assignments include a post at the Pentagon as the chief of the Joint Capabilities Division of the Resources, Assessments and Force Management Directorate, and as commander of the Gulf Region-North Engineer District in Iraq and the Europe Engineer District.

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    This is wonderful news but it’s also a reminder of how slow the Air Force has been to put women in top positions. Having a four-star female general in Air Force uniform is something that could have happened at least a decade ago. Now, it’s time for a woman to be in charge of a combat command. There is no further excuse for this taking any longer.