First ARPC female commander recounts memories

Col. Margie Humphrey, former Air Reserve Personnel Center commander, in a recent photo taken during a trip to the Coyote Buttes area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Northern Arizona. Humphrey was Headquarters ARPC’s first female commander located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. She served as the 24th ARPC commander from Nov. 5, 1997 – June 15, 2000. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Margie Humphrey, former Air Reserve Personnel Center commander, in a recent photo taken during a trip to the Coyote Buttes area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Northern Arizona. Humphrey was Headquarters ARPC’s first female commander located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. She served as the 24th ARPC commander from Nov. 5, 1997 – June 15, 2000. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Margie Humphrey, former Air Reserve Personnel Center commander, was Headquarters ARPC’s first female commander located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. She served as the 24th ARPC commander from Nov. 5, 1997 – June 15, 2000. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. Margie Humphrey, former Air Reserve Personnel Center commander, was Headquarters ARPC’s first female commander located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. She served as the 24th ARPC commander from Nov. 5, 1997 – June 15, 2000. (U.S. Air Force photo)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- (Editor’s note: March marks the observance of National Women’s History Month.)

Several notable women were making headlines in 1997. Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State in U.S. history while Princess Diana captured the world’s attention when she called for an immediate international ban on land mines.

Not to be outdone, the Air Reserve Personnel Center saw its first female commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, when Col. Margie Humphrey served as the 24th ARPC commander from Nov. 5, 1997 – June 15, 2000.

She’s been inspired throughout her life by her sixth grade teacher, Lerlene Humphrey, who later became her mother-in-law, and by W. Ross Humphrey, her husband of 51 years.

“Lerlene inspired me through her ability to reach every student in her class and her wisdom and concern that was evident,” she said. “When I married into the family, I found out how amazing she really was. She had married with no college. When my husband was four years old, she began commuting almost 200 miles to a teacher’s college while my father-in-law taught school in a one-room schoolhouse. She went on to graduate, become a teacher and earn her master’s. Her ability to accomplish this with a child and husband became a great inspiration to me.”

Humphrey figured if Lerlene could do that in the late 40s, then she knew she could obtain a college degree after she married, too. Lerlene passed away in 2013 at the age of 94.

She met her husband in Linden, Texas, and later married around the time she graduated high school and as he graduated from college.

“He immediately entered the Air Force, which started us on a journey across the United States and to Germany for seven years. He had already been on active duty 11 years when I finished college, and he encouraged me to join the Air Force,” she said. “He had the same attitude about what women could do and inspired me to ‘be all you can be.’ He not only supported me, but encouraged me in everything I did in the Air Force, even when I doubted myself and thought maybe I’d bitten off too much.”

She described what it meant to be ARPC's first female commander.

“Of course, I recognized I was the first, but I had long since stopped thinking of myself as a female officer or thinking of a woman in a particular job as unusual,” she said. “I looked at my role simply as a new commander in an environment I was unfamiliar with. What sex I was made no difference. It was an opportunity to learn and understand an invaluable facet of the Air Force and try to make a difference.”

Her leadership philosophy at ARPC involved allowing people to do their jobs, grow in responsibility and have a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing they were valuable to those around them and those they served.

“There were so many unsung heroes who made such a huge difference to reservists. It was always rewarding to hear stories about the helpful things they had done when I went out in the field to Reserve gatherings,” she said.

She said her fondest memory at ARPC was working with the countless people who daily went about their jobs.

“It’s the great people who provided me the knowledge I desperately needed to be successful in working with the Air Force Reserve. My staff were dedicated, hard-working experts in their areas and did their very best to provide support and service to the thousands of reservists whose lives they touched while educating me at the same time. They were amazing in their willingness to serve and try to help reservists,” she said.

One of the first things she did when her wing commander told her she was going to ARPC was look at the ARPC web page, which at the time, had only two pages.

“After I got my feet on the ground at ARPC, it was time to look at that. With the leadership and expertise of not only the information management people at ARPC, but also the many personnel specialists who knew what was needed, ARPC brought the website into the present.

The site allowed Individual Mobilization Augmentees and others to interface directly with ARPC and take actions that replaced mail and phone calls to get things done,” she added. “It was a joy to hear from reservists about the difference this made to them. I was extremely proud of this start on making ARPC better able to serve reservists then and in the future.”

Humphrey said ARPC was a great challenge for her, and she noted other obstacles she faced while she was at the center.

“I found myself needing to speak a new language used in the Reserve. How reservists were paid, promoted, assigned, retired and countless other aspects of their roles used the same words as active duty, but the meaning was very different. The rules I knew no longer applied. I had to learn how to speak ‘Reserve.’”

“Luckily, I had some outstanding experts to rely on. Earlier in my career, I also found it a great challenge to learn what I needed to know to be a combat crew commander of a Titan II missile crew,” she said. “I found myself studying how to read electrical wiring diagrams and how air conditioning, engines, radio, water, communications and countless other systems worked. I doubted I could learn it all, but with my husband’s encouragement, I found you can learn something totally new and different if you put yourself to it and keep going.”

She said she counted her time at ARPC as her favorite job in the Air Force, and it was a revelation to learn about the significant role the Reserve played in the total Air Force mission.

“I discovered my position was the closest thing to a single voice for the thousands of IMAs around the world who worked alongside active duty members. Like me, they had little understanding of the system reservists operated within,” she said. “I was able to go out in the field, help explain personnel programs that affected reservists’ lives and futures and learn about their concerns. I then was able to take those concerns back not only to ARPC, but to the chief of the Air Force Reserve and others who could make sure changes were made to better support IMAs.”

She said she liked being treated like an officer—not a female officer, but an officer the most during her Air Force career.

“I was immediately struck. It was a welcome experience to be given responsibility and expected to perform with reliability, good judgment and competence and not looked at any differently because I was female,” she said. “I was also blessed with fabulous commanders who gave me opportunities as I observed what real leadership was all about.”

The advice she’d give to people at ARPC would be to never forget their importance to those they support.

“Thousands of people in the Air Force count on you for information, actions and accuracy that affect their careers and lives. Never think for a moment that ‘less than your best’ is good enough,” she said.

Debbie Weule, retirement branch A chief, who’s worked 33 years at ARPC, said what it meant to her to have Humphrey as the first female commander at the center.

“It was a wonderful achievement for her career and women in the Air Force to have her command a headquarters. It's empowering for other women to see what can be achieved,” she said. “The thing I remember most about her was how personable she was and she would take the time to get to know the people at ARPC.”

Ramon Roldan, transition division chief, who’s been at ARPC for 19 years, recalled what he remembered about the colonel.

“Although this was during my early years at ARPC, I remember the atmosphere gradually changing and becoming more vibrant. I remember the way she carried herself, that she smiled a lot and, of course, the bright color of her hair,” he said.

Since retiring from the Air Force, Humphrey and her husband moved to Tucson, Arizona, a place they loved and had kept a home they bought while stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in the early 80s.

She enjoys visiting America’s most beautiful places: She’s climbed the slopes of Mount Rainier, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and been to a majority of the national parks in the west.

She keeps busy by volunteering weekly as a docent at the Titan Missile Museum, in Sahuarita, Arizona, where she gives hourly tours to visitors from all over the world.

“It’s rewarding to share my experiences and information about this important mission with people who are fascinated to learn about a vehicle, which helped win the Cold War and the people who worked underground with it,” she said.

She also finds time to share her interest in computers and technology volunteering to teach adults who missed the advent of computers.

“It’s been very rewarding to introduce computers to those who want to communicate with their families via the internet but have no idea how to use a computer,” she said. “When you see the ‘ah ha’ moment in someone’s eyes, you know you’ve made a difference.”

When she’s not hiking, she enjoys photography, traveling, learning how to use technology and being a docent and teacher.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts in history from Christopher Newport College of William and Mary in Newport News, Virginia, in 1974. She completed Squadron Officers School in 1978, earned a Master of Science in political science, international relations with Troy State University (overseas), at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in 1981, completed Air Command and Staff College in 1988 and Air War College in 1992.

Before arriving at ARPC, Humphrey held several positions: commander, chief of staff, deputy commander, director of administration, missile combat crew commander, plans officer, executive officer, protocol officer and publications distribution officer.

Humphrey’s military decorations included the Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster. She retired from the Air Force in 2004 after more than 29 years of service.