Brig. Gen. Jennifer Walter can count a lot of “firsts for women” in her 38 plus years in the Iowa Air National Guard. She was the first group commander, first squadron commander, first non-medical colonel and first female brigadier general, to highlight the big promotions. In the first year as Chief of Staff, Walter saw through a major transition period for one of the three wings she oversees. In September, the 132nd Fighter Wing based out of Des Moines conducted its last training flight of its F-16 aircraft due to budget cuts. As the 132nd transitions to Remotely Piloted Aircraft operations, several hundred Iowa Air National Guard airmen will re-train for other jobs within the branch. In addition to facilitating that move, Walter also oversees operations at the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City; and the 133rd Test Squadron in Fort Dodge.
As a senior in high school in the mid-1970s, Walter was not impressed with the career opportunities for women at the time. Options included typing and clerical work. “I decided I was not going to do that,” she said.
Walter graduated a semester early from North High School in Sioux City in 1974 and went for a semester at Briar Cliff University. While working a temp job at a local processing plant, she saw Iowa Air National Guard F-100 fighter aircraft circling overhead daily as they prepared to land at the nearby airport. A woman she worked with talked often of her husband who was a member of the Iowa Air National Guard. The Air National Guard sounded exciting and just what Walter was looking for.
Not long after, Walter moved to Topeka, Kan., where she joined the Kansas Air National Guard. A few months later, she transferred to the Iowa Air National Guard and moved to Des Moines. There, she worked at Manpower Services, an insurance agency, and the Des Moines Register until a full-time position opened at the Des Moines International Airport with the 132nd Fighter Wing.
For 11 years, Walter served as an enlisted airman, but she decided that she wanted more out of her career with the Air National Guard. After she attended Officer Training School at the Academy of Military Science and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in 1986, Walter settled in to complete a college degree that had been eight years in the making.
She learned about Upper Iowa University and its pioneering accelerated program from the Base Education Training Office with the Iowa Air National Guard. For an officer and a mother of two young boys, the program was perfect. She attended classes at the Des Moines Center. “The program was wonderful,” she said. “Upper Iowa provided courses at the times when I needed them. They really fit into my schedule.”
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management in 1989 but was unable to attend commencement at the residential campus in Fayette, Iowa. Duty calls, and Walter was supporting the Air National Guard’s accident investigation board in Kansas following an F-16 crash.
Walter has also completed Squadron Officer School in 1994, Air Command and Staff College in 2000 and Air War College in 2004.
Throughout her career, she has won numerous awards and decorations including the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, NATO Medal and State of Iowa Commendation Medal. Just prior to being named the Iowa Air National Guard’s Chief of Staff, Walter was Vice Wing Commander of the 132nd Fighter Wing, where she was responsible for exercising command responsibilities and providing a combat-ready force for mobilization. This position included ensuring mission-ready personnel, equipment and F-16C aircraft for 970 personnel and 21 aircraft.
Throughout her 38 years with the Iowa Air National Guard, Walter has been deployed several times to places around the world including Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait; Panama; England; and Japan. In 2007, she was deployed for six months to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan as a group commander for the 755th Air Expeditionary Wing. Their mission was to identify airmen working for the U.S. Army across Afghanistan and ensure they were being used in the capacities to which they were assigned.
Despite being the “first” woman for several posts in the Iowa Air National Guard, Walter said she hadn’t really thought about the uniqueness of it all until lately. “When you go to officer training, the Guard never treated us like men or women; they treated us as officers. So it didn’t really seem to matter what gender we were,” she said. “I hadn’t really paid much attention to being the first woman. But now, I’m looking at my position a little differently.”
When Walter started in 1975, women were restricted to what they could do in the Air National Guard. “The first question out of anybody’s mouth during the interview process was, ‘How fast can you type?’” she said. “That’s just the way it was. There was also a cap on how many females could be in the Guard. It isn’t like that now. We have a woman who is attending F-16 fighter pilot school. There are zero restrictions at either the 132nd, 133rd or 185th. All fields are open to women.
“Personally, what the promotion to general means to me, is there shouldn’t ever be a woman joining the military today that doesn’t go in with goals. When I joined it wasn’t like that. Now, it’s completely open and I’m living proof that you can do it.”