The next commander of Air Force Materiel Command is taking an unprecedented role as the Air Force’s first female four-star general.
But Greene County native Janet C. Wolfenbarger, a 1976 graduate of Beavercreek High School who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate late Monday, is already well familiar with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where the command is headquartered. She served as vice commander of Air Force Materiel Command from December 2009 until September 2011.
After a stint at the Pentagon — she was previously the military deputy in the office of assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition — she’ll be back home, in a historic role at the command, which employs about 83,000 people and manages $60 billion annually in research, development, test and evaluation programs. The command’s role is to develop, procure and maintain Air Force aircraft and weapons programs.
Her resume includes considerable experience at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base: She previously held several positions in the F-22 System Program Office; was the B-2 system program director for the Aeronautical Systems Center; and served as director of the headquarters Air Force Materiel Command Intelligence and Requirements Directorate.
While the base has long been familiar for Wolfenbarger, so, perhaps, is being a pioneer: She joined the Air Force in 1980, and was in the first class of the Air Force Academy that included women among its graduates.
She will be the second woman four-star general in military history. Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the head of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, was promoted to her rank in 2008.
And she will return to a base that has been something of a ground zero for the Air Force’s groundbreaking women. As vice commander, Wolfenbarger succeeded Lt. Gen. Terry Gabreski, now retired, who was at that time the Air Force’s highest-ranking woman.
President Obama first nominated her for the role on Feb. 6. Her nomination was part of an Air Force Materiel Command restructuring, announced in November, aimed at streamlining the chain of command.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he was “delighted” to see Wolfenbarger confirmed.
“She continues to inspire and pave the way for women who serve in our Air Force and those who aspire to,” he said, adding that her selection as the Air Force’s first female four-star general is “a testament of her demonstrated leadership and service to our nation.”
Wolfenbarger will take over command of Air Force Materiel Command at a crucial period. The Defense Department is undergoing sweeping budget cuts that may get worse. Last year’s Budget Control Act called for mandatory cuts to the Defense Department. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called those cuts a “doomsday” scenario that would devastate the military. The Obama administration has also called for a round of base closures — a move that could, depending on the outcome, be a boon or a loss to Air Force Materiel Command.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, said the command “will be critical” in the coming years as budgets tighten.
He called Wolfenbarger an example of “the best of our community” and credited her with having deep familiarity with the role the base plays in Ohio and in the nation’s security.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also applauded her confirmation.
“The men and women of the U.S. Air Force have relied on the experience and courage of Gen. Wolfenbarger,” Brown said. “With roots in the Miami Valley, she has shown strong leadership and an eagerness to serve throughout her career. I’m humbled to congratulate Gen. Wolfenbarger for this well-deserved promotion and proud that the Air Force’s first female four-star general was born in Ohio, raised in Ohio, and will serve in Ohio as the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command in Ohio.”
Staff Writer John Nolan contributed to this report.