Go to DaytonDailyNews.com or WHIO.com Monday at 1 p.m. to watch the change of command of the top general at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski will take the reins of the Air Force Materiel Command from Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, who is retiring after 35 years of service, during a ceremony at the Air Force Institute of Technology.
In case you missed it, here’s a recent story Barrie Barber on Gen. Wolfenbarger:
The first woman to attain the rank of four-star general in the Air Force said the service branch has made “substantial progress” on gender diversity, but has more inroads to make to attract women into the military ranks.
Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger will retire next month as commander of the Air Force Material Command at Wright-Patterson. It will mark the end of a 35-year career as a military officer that began for the 1976 Beavercreek High School graduate when she was part of the first class of female cadets to enter the Air Force Academy.
“I would tell you that I have learned and grown from every opportunity that my Air Force has given me with no aspiration to reach any particular rank,” said Wolfenbarger, 56. “Never would have expected that I would make one-star, much less four.”
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In an interview at AFMC headquarters, Wolfenbarger talked about the concern of impending sequestration budget cuts, congressional and Pentagon focus on acquisition reform, and transformational changes at the command. AFMC counts 80,000 mostly civilian employees — about 13,400 at Wright-Patterson — and a $60 billion portfolio of programs.
Wolfenbarger’s high rank and role as a top commander brought community recognition — Beavercreek High named its campus after her and she received an honorary doctorate from Wright State University.
Before her final leadership post, she had key oversight roles in the development of the F-22 Raptor fighter, B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, and C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet.
“Every job my Air Force has given me to do, I have done my very best at,” she said. “ I couple that with bringing a positive attitude to work every day. That’s my very simple recipe for success and I tell folks it worked for me.”
The Air Force has “embraced the importance of gender diversity,” the general said. Since 1993, 99 percent of Air Force careers have been opened to women.
When she joined, she said 10 percent of Air Force airmen were women, and any woman could be forced to leave the military if she became a parent through birth, adoption or by marrying someone with a child. Now, service members can ask for maternity or paternity leave, she said.
Today, women make up 19 percent of the active-duty ranks, or 58,375 airmen. Her successor, Lt. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, will become the third four-star female general in the Air Force, she noted.
“We’re not done,” Wolfenbarger said. “Twenty percent is not representative of demographics of this country and so we continue to embrace programs that will allow us to attract and retain women for our United States Air Force.”
One of those is exploring opening six special operations-related career fields closed to women in the Air Force, a move Wolfenbarger said she “absolutely” supports.
The closed career fields are combat rescue officers, special tactics officers, pararescue, combat control, tactical air control party and special operations weather — a total of about 4,300 positions.
“What we have ongoing right now is a study, an analysis of the physical requirements that those career fields would demand,” she said. “The objective is to establish gender-neutral physical requirements so that anybody who is capable of serving in those roles would be afforded the opportunity to do so.”
Another key issue involving men and women in the military that has drawn congressional and public scrutiny in recent years is the problem of sexual assault.
The Department of Defense reported this month 6,131 reports of sexual assault in fiscal year 2014, an increase of 11 percent from the prior year. Defense officials say more victims — about one in four — are reporting, the highest level since the military began tracking assaults.
The Air Force cited 1,350 sexual assault reports in FY 14 compared to 1,149 the prior year. Air Force leaders have attributed the higher numbers to more airmen showing the confidence to report the crime. Wolfenbager said it remains “an issue of utmost important to us.”
“We have worked very hard to both prevent occurrences and to hold accountable the subjects who engage in that very inappropriate activity,” she said.
Among other actions, top Air Force leaders have emphasized initiatives to address sexual assault, and the service branch was the first to set up a special victims counsel to provide legal help to victims.
“I think we have done a lot to address this issue, which is not unique to the Air Force,” Wolfenbarger said. “We believe that what we have been able to accomplish to date has given victims, when actions do occur, more confidence that they will be taken care of and that the perpetrators will be held accountable.”
Steps to reform
While serving as AFMC commander, Wolfenbarger managed the consolidation of 12 centers across the country to five, the elimination of 1,000 management jobs — reductions that saved about $100 million — and faced the “devastating” impact of sequestration, automatic budget cuts that struck in 2013.
Sequestration, she said, was the most difficult challenge she confronted.
Maintenance depot work backed up and thousands of civil service workers were furloughed, among other impacts.
“That has been a challenge across the Air Force and this command is no different in that regard,” she said. “We have had huge mission impacts in terms of the work that our Air Force asks us to do and then we have had huge personnel impacts.”
The return of sequester budget cuts in October would be “devastating,” Wolfenbarger said.
“I would see mission impacts across the board in the same way that we saw in fiscal year ’13,” she said.
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the military faces nearly $500 billion in spending reductions over a decade.
Meanwhile, Congress has pushed acquisition reform measures as the cost and time to develop weapon systems escalated.
Wolfenbarger cited “concurrency” in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s ongoing, years-long development as a trouble spot. The fighter jet was put into production while flight testing continues.
“I would venture to predict that we will never see that amount of concurrency again because it was a huge lesson learned for us,” she said. “The rework that had to be done as we were, even now, in the flight testing phase, wringing out that capability as we’re also delivering it to our customers drives a large cost.
“I would tell you that at the Department of Defense, at the Air Force level, we have embraced a whole host of efforts (and) initiatives to try to learn from the past and preclude missteps for the future.”
The Air Force, she said, has worked with defense contractors to control costs of new weapon systems.
AFMC has asked industry to tell it what stifles innovation and the ability to deliver at reduced time and cost, she said. The military has looked to review regulations that may need to be adjusted in industry partnerships, she said.
The Air Force has pushed “expanding the competition as best as we can with both traditional and non-traditional industry partners to bring in new eyes to figure out better ways to get those capabilities delivered,” the general said.
One major weapons program the Air Force will make a decision on this year is the Long Range Strike Bomber. The new bomber will use mature technologies and keep “achievable and stable requirements” to avoid issues in prior weapon systems development programs, Wolfenbarger said. The Air Force’s top general would have to sign off on requirement changes.
“The Long Range Strike Bomber is an example of a program, in my opinion, that we have leveraged those lessons learned and applied to this acquisition right from the start,” she said.
The Air Force has targeted purchasing 80 to 100 of the future bombers at a production cost of $550 million each with deliveries beginning in the 2020s.
Wolfenbarger said she could not speculate on how Wright-Patterson might fare if a new round of military base closures happened, but noted historically the base has fared “very well.”
The most recent Air Force estimate has pegged excess infrastructure at 30 percent — “a large number that drives expenditure of resources that could be used for higher priority needs if we were given the authority to right-size our infrastructure,” she said.
’I love this base’
Wolfenbarger has spent more than half her career at Wright-Patterson, mostly in key roles in the development of weapon systems.
“I love this base,” she said. “I love this community. I have so enjoyed the support that I have received personally, but even more importantly, my airmen and other service members who are stationed here in this location have received from a wonderful community that is so supportive.”
Wolfenbarger said she hopes to serve on corporate board of directors and volunteer more in retirement.
She and her husband, Craig, a retired Air Force colonel, plan to stay in the Miami Valley another year until their daughter graduates from high school. The family plans to move to San Antonio, Texas.
Reporter John Bedell contributed to this report.