By US Army Sgt. Sara J. Yoke
History was made in West Virginia on Saturday as Col. Paige P. Hunter of the WV Air National Guard was promoted to brigadier general, making her the first female general officer in the state. Brig. Gen. Hunter’s promotion ceremony was held Feb. 6, at the 130th Airlift Wing base in Charleston.
Hunter, a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, has been faithfully serving the state of West Virginia and the United States for 34 years. Her official military biography reveals a respectfully long list of major awards and decorations. In 1983, she commissioned as second lieutenant in the 130th Airlift Wing and went on to become the Chief of the Intelligence Division. In 1996, she became the 130th Airlift Wing Mission Support Flight Commander then the Group Commander in 1998.
After ten years as a commander, she was assigned as the Joint Force Headquarters Director of Military Support to Civil Authorities and then the Human Resources Officer. In September 2015, she was given the assignment of Chief the Air Staff at Joint Force Headquarters. As Chief, she serves as an advisor to the Director of the Joint Staff and the Adjutant General. She is responsible for helping manage programs and operations for the Joint Staff and overseeing issues that impact the more than 6,500 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen of the West Virginia National Guard.
“I’ve been the first female to do every position I’ve ever held, but I just don’t think about it that way. I think it’s great for women in the National Guard and West Virginia to see that, absolutely, if they’re the right person for the job, then they’re going to get it. They’re not going to be hindered because they are female,” Hunter said. “There are no prohibitions.”
When she joined the ANG, she never imagined she would attain the rank of general but she said she has been fortunate enough to serve in the positions that would prepare her for upward mobility.
“That’s how I mentor the younger Airmen and Soldiers; I ask them, “What are their goals? And what path would they need to take, what kinds of positions would they need to try and make them well rounded?” Hunter said.
When Hunter decided to apply for the command position, she turned to her father, retired Brig. Gen. Bob Parish of the 130th Airlift Wing for advice as well as her husband retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Hunter.
“I asked Dad, ‘Do you think I can handle it?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely you can handle it,’” The advice he gave me was to ‘Command with compassion.’” Her husband also supported her decision and told her to just lead by example.
She said while being a commander was stressful and challenging at times, she kept her father’s advice in mind.
“The mission absolutely always has to be accomplished, but there should always be a way to take care of your people AND get the mission done. You can meet the needs of both. I always try to do that,” she said.
From being one of the first females to attend the historic Youth Leaders Camp at the WVNG’s Camp Dawson in 1978, to her father swearing her into service in 1982, to making history as the first female general officer in the state of West Virginia, Hunter hopes to instill the same attitude in young service members in the WVNG organization.
“I’ve not changed since the time I was a lieutenant, and I’ve always been about getting the mission done and taking care of the people. People are our most important resource. So that’s our focus; take care of the people, and they will take care of the mission. They’re all professionals.”
While she understands the significance of obtaining the one-star brigadier general rank, Hunter said her next goal is simple: to mentor the young leaders coming up behind her.
“I want to teach command with compassion and to lead with compassion,” she said. “And I want to help Airmen and Soldiers with their careers and achieve everything they wish to do with no prohibitions.”