Air Force's first female 4-star general credits area education

Janet Wolfenbarger says studies at Beavercreek prepped her for academy.

Wolfenbarger, 53, will succeed the retiring Gen. Donald Hoffman on June 5 as commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson. The nine-base command oversees Air Force acquisition, logistics, research and development, including support and sustainment of major aircraft and weapons programs.

In June, Wolfenbarger will pin on her fourth star to make official her promotion, under terms of a presidential nomination that the U.S. Senate confirmed on Monday.

Wolfenbarger said she is “humbled, honored and excited” by her promotion. It helps illustrate the Air Force’s continuing efforts to open opportunities for all its members, she told reporters Thursday in a conference call from the Pentagon.

“I see tremendous progress in terms of the embracing of the importance of diversity ... and the expansion of the opportunities for women, just in the time I’ve been in service,” she said. “We have seen the number of women double, from 10 percent when I started to about 19 percent now ... We still have more work to do.”

Her education at Beavercreek High School — she is a 1976 graduate — prepared her for the academic rigors of the Air Force Academy, Wolfenbarger said. She was among the academy’s first female students as the service academies began admitting women. She graduated from there in 1980.

While at Beavercreek High, where her name was Janet Libby, she served as a homeroom representative and was in the National Honor Society, and the German and ski clubs.

She also joined with classmates to form a girls’ soccer team that has developed into Beavercreek High’s current girls’ soccer program, she said. The high school inducted her into its alumni hall of fame in 2004.

“She was really smart,” said John Zambenini, 53, a high school classmate who, like Janet Libby, had a father in the Air Force and had relocated multiple times before coming to Beavercreek. “She just seemed like one of those people who had it all together.”

Wolfenbarger has spent 18 of her 32 Air Force years at Wright-Patterson. Her service at the local base has included helping manage the Air Force’s F-22 and B-2 aircraft programs, and serving as vice commander of the Air Force Materiel Command from December 2009 until September 2011. She is now an acquisition executive at the Pentagon.

Wolfenbarger was born in Tampa, Fla., while her father was assigned to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The family moved to New Hampshire, Oklahoma and California before her father, now-retired Maj. Eldon Libby and wife Shirley, were transferred to Wright-Patterson. That allowed their daughter to spend her high school years in Beavercreek.

Her Air Force Academy education taught her to cope with unfamiliar circumstances and boosted her confidence, Wolfenbarger said.

“It was a strong self-confidence that I could do and handle any experience that I might have in my future,” she told reporters.

Wolfenbarger said her long-term career goals didn’t anticipate a promotion to general. She said she simply concentrated on doing her best in each assignment she was given.

Asked what advice she might give to young women considering whether to enter the military, Wolfenbarger said: “I’d invite them all to come in. I have found it to be extraordinarily rewarding and challenging. It may not be for everybody, but it is certainly challenging.”

Her husband, Col. Craig Wolfenbarger, served as an Air Force pilot before retiring in 2006. They have a daughter.

“I am very happy to be coming back to Dayton,” she said. “I feel as though I am coming home.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2242 or jnolan@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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