High Flyer

She soared from Alabama to Air Force general

By Rebecca Kuzins
June 2024

Alice Astafan has a story to tell. “Not many people are born on a cotton farm and get to the Pentagon,” the Carmichael resident says.

From her humble start to lofty success in the U.S. Air Force, Astafan is the rare woman who reached the rank of major general. Her second star made her the first and only woman reservist—including all service branches—to attain the two-star rank at that time.

Astafan’s memoir, “Lady Leader Leaves Lasting Legacy: From the Cotton Patch to the Pentagon and Beyond,” was published last November by AuthorHouse. The book tracks her life from a farm in Oakman, Alabama, a town of about 800, to the heights of military service.

“I loved my upbringing, but I didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife for the rest of my life,” Astafan, 85, says.

One of nine children, Astafan attended University of Alabama on a scholarship, working her way through school. After graduation in 1960, she enrolled in an Air Force program in which cadets received 12 weeks of training and served a minimum of three years, starting as lieutenants.

Her first assignments took her to Massachusetts and England. Throughout her 38-year career, Astafan specialized in logistics, supporting combat units by providing transportation, supplies and other services.

The Air Force she entered was not today’s military. Women couldn’t attend flight school and serve as pilots. They couldn’t engage in combat. Pregnant women or women with small children were barred from active duty.

Astafan overcame the limitations by focusing on her job and working with male bosses and colleagues. “I had 42 bosses who wrote my appraisals,” she says. “Not a one of them ever said or did anything inappropriate.”

While stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, she met Peter Astafan, a civilian base employee. They fell in love and married in 1968.

After her honeymoon, Astafan was assigned to Thailand. The Vietnam War was underway. She received a Bronze Star for her work, which included arranging for an aerospace rescue and recovery squadron to relocate to Thailand from Vietnam. She counts her participation in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) military exercise, Project Sea Spirit, as her greatest achievement while in Thailand.

After attaining the rank of major, Astafan left active duty to become a reservist, moving to Carmichael in 1973 and giving birth to her son Patrick. Her ascent continued: She was promoted to brigadier general in 1988 while serving at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Returning to McClellan in 1992, she was assigned to serve as the mobilization assistant to the highest-ranking logistician at the Pentagon.

Within a year she received her second star and became a Major General. But the promotion was diminished by her son’s struggle with leukemia. She juggled schedules between Pentagon duties and caring for Patrick in Carmichael and other locations where he received medical treatment.

Patrick died in 1994. Astafan and Peter established two scholarships in Patrick’s honor, one for students in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Sacramento State (the Patrick Astafan Balanced Man Scholarship), another at Oklahoma Christian University.

Astafan retired from the Air Force in 1998 and for a decade served as chief executive of the Federal Technology Center (FTC) in North Highlands. The FTC’s mission was to promote economic development by facilitating technology transfer between government and the private sector, helping small businesses successfully compete for government contracts. Many small California businesses won government contracts with the aid of the FTC. The center ranked number one among 93 centers nationwide, and Astafan credits her outstanding employees for this achievement.

She served on numerous boards, including the Eskaton Foundation and Eskaton corporate board, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities in Oakridge, TN. Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom appointed her to the Governor’s Military Council.

Astafan began writing her book in 2016, when she was taking a memoir class with writer Inside Sacramento alumnus Kelli Wheeler. She stopped writing when Peter became ill and resumed after his death in 2021.

Astafan wrote her book to inspire readers to overcome modest circumstances and strive for success. “The opportunities are still there,” she says. “You just have to see the possibilities. I did it. You can do it, too.”

“Lady Leader” is available for $42.99 in print or $3.99 for ebook at authorhouse.com.
Rebecca Kuzins can be reached at kuzins63@att.net. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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