Woman makes history in Wisconsin Army National Guard
MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s deputy adjutant general Joane Mathews is accustomed to taking the lead.
Brig. Gen. Mathews is the first woman, as well as first Native American, to serve as deputy adjutant general for Army. The Guard celebrated her accomplishments during a formal change of authority ceremony on June 1st.
“It’s like a dream come true. I never thought I would ever be in this role. Not in my wildest dreams,” Mathews said.
In the shadow of where the Wisconsin Army National Guard came to train before there was an Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Mark Anderson relinquished the post in which he had served since to 2008 to Mathews, who most recently served as the assistant adjutant general for readiness and training.
“I have some huge shoes to fill. Maj. Gen. Anderson did a great job. He mentored me and guided me,” she said.
Mathews made history in the Senate chamber of the State Capitol in April of 2016. Gov. Scott Walker promoted her to brigadier general, making her the first woman and the first Native American to serve as general in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
“A lot of people tell me it’s really great to be first and it is really good to be first but, I didn’t get there alone,” Mathews said. “I had family that supported me. I had awesome co-workers, superiors, subordinates, officers and enlisted alike along my career that helped me get where I am today.”
In her 30-plus year career in the military, Mathews has a long history of setting firsts from commanding the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation, to commanding the 64th Troop Command, to serving as the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s chief of staff and then assistant adjutant general for readiness and training.
She approaches each new opportunity with gratitude and humility.
“I joined the military as an officer,” she said. “After your initial obligation, you can leave if you want but I never did. Every job I had coming up until now has been challenging and rewarding. The military is a great family. It’s a team work environment. I’ve learned so much along the way and I just love it. Not everyone can say they like to come to work every day. I love coming to work every day.”
Mathews grew up in a deep Native American tradition on the Lac Du Flambeau reservation near Minocqua.
“I’m very proud of my culture. When I was growing up on the reservation unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have,” Mathews said. “I should have asked my grandparents about their stories about the boarding schools and living on the reservation, and getting names given to them because no one could pronounce their Indian names and my father talking only Ojibwe. I didn’t ask those questions and I wish I would have. I appreciate it greatly now.”
Mathews followed the footsteps of her father who also served in the military.
“When I was in college at the University of North Dakota Grand Forks, I decided to take an ROTC class because I wanted to put my foot in the water and see if I liked it and, I liked it,” Mathews said. “I wanted to get my college degree. That was my goal.”
Mathews received her ROTC commission in 1986 as a second lieutenant in the aviation branch. She served 11 years on active duty. Her first assignment was at the U.S. Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where she served as a helicopter instructor pilot and platoon commander.
“In the aviation branch there weren’t that many females when I joined,” Mathews said. “There were 100 who graduated and maybe 20 were female, if that.”
In 2016, the United States military opened combat jobs for women. Mathews said there are more opportunities for women than ever before.
Mathews was transferred to Germany where she served as a maintenance test pilot for Blackhawk helicopters. She deployed to Turkey and Northern Iraq as part of Operation Provide Comfort.
“Then I came back to the states,” she said. “My parents were getting older and I just wanted to come back home and spend time with family. I joined the guard, and that was one of the best decisions I made in my life.”
Mathews lives in Sun Prairie with her husband and two daughters.
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