General Walter: Earning Her Stripes...And a Star
By TSgt Sara Robinson, 132nd Fighter Wing
/ Published April 06, 2013
Des Moines, Iowa -- Brigadier Geneneral Jennifer Walter, Chief of Staff, Iowa Air National Guard, enlisted in the Air National Guard in early 1975. At that time, The Vietnam War was ending, the Women's Liberation movement was in full swing, the cost of gas was 44 cents a gallon and women had fewer career choices. Walter has seen her share of changes over the last 37 years, including a new mentality for women in the military.
"A lot of things led me down this path. I was working at the Iowa Beef Processors in South Sioux City, Nebraska as a switchboard operator. These airplanes would fly over and make all kinds of racket. It was the 185th Tactical Fighter Wing in Sioux City (Iowa Air National Guard) and they were flying F-100's back then," she said.
"The world was a different place back then. In my 18-year old mind you could be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. There was nothing else. My parents were very supportive of me joining the military even though the perception of women who joined was poor. It was thought that girls that joined were troublemakers or other stereotypes," she explained.
But that didn't stop Walter. She was a wide-eyed young woman with a sense of adventure and she was ready to see the world. Little did she know at that time that the sky was the limit for her as a female service member. She decided that she wanted to be an Air Traffic Controller in the Kansas Air National Guard.
"The job sounded exciting. I never anticipated being in for longer than six years. I just wanted to try it and see. At the time, the opportunities that the military had for women, compared to the civilian sector, were hands down better, I mean pretty much anything I wanted to do, I could do it," said Walter.
Walter's 'try it and see' six-year enlistment evolved into a career that spans nearly four decades. She came to Iowa in 1975 and was offered a temporary, full-time position as an air operations specialist with the 132nd Tactical Fighter Wing, Iowa Air National Guard. She also served in Operations, Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Program Mobility, Logistics Plans, Logistics Readiness Squadron, HRO, Mission Support Group and Maintenance.
"I had a great career. I actually worked in every maintenance branch except munitions," she said.
During her career, she earned the honor of being the first female to hold several leadership positions in the 132nd FW: she was the first female, non-rated colonel; first female group commander; and first female squadron commander. Her most recent accomplishment was to earn the rank of brigadier general, making her the first female general officer in Iowa Air National Guard history.
"I always felt I had to work harder than everyone else and that paid off. Just doing as good as my peers wasn't enough. I'm going to continue to work twice as hard to do the role of general proud," she says.
Walter is nothing if not humble. Her story is one of adventure, personal trials, and diversity. She gives much of the credit to those who helped her exceed her goals.
"Almost every supervisor and commander I had in my career has been really great. I still can't even believe it. Thirty-seven years ago, I got in with zero college at 18 years old with no stripes on my sleeve. Now, I'm sitting here today as a general officer. I got my college degree, have tons of wonderful memories and experiences, life lessons, the whole nine yards. I literally grew up in the military. I would have never dreamed of achieving [general officer] when I was an Airman Basic. So the basically the sky was the limit for me," she said.