By Master Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing/Public Affairs
/ Published February 19, 2019
Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. -- There are various challenges, setbacks, and rewards for the uncommon citizen who makes serving in the military a career; and on some occasions, there are ‘the firsts’ that reflect the distinctive profession and the unique opportunities that present themselves.
Donna Prigmore embraced the chance to be part of something bigger when she joined the U.S. Air Force in 1982. Yet, being selected as ‘the first’ female general officer in the Oregon Air National Guard was one of those unforeseen opportunities that transpired along the way.
As she was formally promoted to brigadier general in a ceremony on Aug. 5, 2018, at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Prigmore became the first female in the Oregon National Guard promoted to a general officer as a traditional, part-time Guardsman. She follows in the footsteps of Oregon Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Julie A. Bentz, who was the first woman in the Oregon National Guard to become a general officer. Bentz is currently serving on active duty as vice director of the Joint Improvised-threat Defeat Organization (JIDO).
“I am deeply humbled to be standing here in front of you as the first female general officer in the Oregon Air Guard,” she told those in attendance who filled the Rosenbaum hangar on base. “Times like these makes a person reflect on their journey, on the ‘how and why’ the path led to today.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown was on hand to administer the official oath of office. She acknowledged the significance of the moment for those in attendance.
“I am so thrilled to place a milestone on the long and very distinguished history of the Oregon National Guard,” said Brown. “Col. Prigmore, you are now joining an elite group both present and throughout history who can claim the title of general officer.”
Prigmore reflected on the passage from enlistee to general, and those that helped shape her experience along the way. She began her military career when she enlisted as an electronic technician and spent four years on active duty before joining the Arizona Air National Guard. In 1990, she obtained her officer commission and graduated at the top of her class from the Academy of Military Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Subsequent assignments took her to Oklahoma as the cost analysis officer with the 137th Airlift Wing, and later to Alaska with the 176th Wing as the services flight commander and chief of public affairs. By March of 2002, she joined the Oregon Air National Guard working at Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs.
She has since gone on to serve as the vice commander for both the142nd and 173rd Fighter Wings and has more than 12 years of command level experience. Most recently she served one-year as the executive officer for the vice chief of staff National Guard Bureau, Washington, D.C. In her civilian career, she is the senior manager, Passenger Terminal Experience at the Port of Portland.
Splitting the time between the two demanding professions has been a challenge at times, all the while being a supportive military spouse to husband, Lt. Col. John Prigmore, and mother to her two sons, Nathan and Brian Prigmore.
“When you have someone of Donna’s caliber she is needed at both places,” noted Governor Brown during her remarks.
With all the varied opportunities along her career path in the Air National Guard, Prigmore acknowledged those that not only shaped her professional development but also encouraged her when the challenges were demanding.
One of those ‘key people’ she described in her remarks was Mr. Harvey Fink, who served as a coach and mentor for years to Prigmore before his passing earlier this year.
“Harvey taught me patience and perseverance, and he helped to keep the fire burning within me … during times when my flame was barely lit. When I was at a crossroads a few times, uncertain as to whether I could balance the life any longer of being a mother, wife, friend, Port of Portland employee, officer, and commander in the Oregon Air Guard,” said Prigmore.
One of the most unique unplanned opportunities that guided Prigmore’s compass was during her time at Camp Rosenbaum, a youth-citizenship camp sponsored by the Oregon National Guard. Since 1970, the camp has transformed the lives of many children in the region. Oregon Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Fred Rosenbaum started the camp and recruited Prigmore to help “tell the Camp Rosenbaum story to a larger audience.” Eventually, she went on to serve as a camp counselor, and later she became the camp director for a five-year period.
“Looking back at that stage in my life, those truly were some of the best memories I have had during my career,” she said while pointing out Mark Rosenbaum, Fred’s son, in the audience. “Mark, I think about your dad all the time and we all miss him, especially on day’s like today.”
As she acknowledged other officers and mentors in her life, she concluded looking toward the future as she described the impact of her two sons, Nathan and Brian, “who have perhaps taught me the most about life.”
“Ironically, I feel at this stage in my life that my boys are teaching me now, more than I am teaching them. It is a strange turn of events, but one I welcome with open arms and one that I am eternally grateful for,” she said.
Maj. Gen. Michael Stencel, Adjutant General, Oregon, described how she has kept this special balance between family and career, “A supportive family, and a supportive employer,” he said.
With the promotion to general officer, Prigmore will serve as the Oregon National Guard's Assistant Adjutant General-Air, which commands and ensures the readiness for both of Oregon's flying F-15 Eagle units located in Portland and Klamath Falls.
“She (Prigmore) brings not only a proven background to her new role but she has a unique ability to connect with people and cares about their development,” said Stencel.