Brig. Gen. Carol A. Timmons has been confirmed as Delaware's next adjutant general
It’s evident Brig. Gen. Carol A. Timmons is not the shy, quiet kid described in her high school yearbook. After all, if you don’t have some instincts toward leadership, you’ll never be confirmed as the next leader of the Delaware National Guard.
“I think I am a natural warrior, as in I certainly prefer that we not have wars, but I do very well in that environment,” said Timmons, who career has spanned almost 40 years. “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I love to take care of people, I love to bring people together to make a team.”
Timmons has flown Army helicopters, piloted Air Force cargo aircraft into combat zones and become the first woman promoted to flag rank in the Delaware National Guard. As Assistant Adjutant General-Air since January 2012, she has been responsible for the roughly 1,100 airmen in Delaware’s air guard.
Through her career Timmons amassed more than 5,200 military hours in the cockpit, holds Army and Air Force pilot’s wings and earned the rating of command pilot. As a civilian, she’s flown more than 10,000 hours for United Airlines, most recently as a first officer aboard the 767 and 757.
And now she’s ready for the next step: the Delaware Senate on Jan. 25 unanimously confirmed her appointment as Gov. John Carney’s pick to be the state’s next adjutant general. She will replace Maj. Gen. Francis D. Vavala, who retires Jan. 31 after having held the post since February 1999.
As adjutant general, she’ll be responsible for ensuring all Guard units -- ground and air -- are ready for whatever missions they are called to do.
“It’s so if we get the call, we’re ready to go out the door,” she said.
A formal change of command will take place Feb. 12.
The magic of flight
Timmon’s family has a record of military service. Her father was in the US Navy during the Korean War and three uncles flew in World War II.
Still, her parents were surprised when as a 5-year old Timmons told them she wanted to fly. To get into the military, she enlisted in the ANG as a security specialist after graduating from William Penn High School.
Her dream of flight crystallized in April 1978 when, on a C-130 Hercules flight to Georgia, she was allowed up into the cockpit.
“I don’t know what the magic was, but I can remember that like it was yesterday. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said. “I felt at home right away.”
But she quickly hit a roadblock. Women were not welcome in the Air Force’s male-dominated world of military flight, so Timmons switched services. She was welcomed into the Army National Guard and, commissioned as a second lieutenant, learned to fly the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
“But in the early 1980s, someone decided that women couldn’t be in combat assault units,” she said. With memories of Vietnam in mind, the Army was wary of women pilots being killed or captured, she said.
So Timmons transferred services again, this time to a New Jersey Air Force Reserve unit and flew the jet-powered C-141 Starlifter during the first Persian Gulf War.
Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm changed a lot of minds about the idea of women in combat zones, she said.
“As you know, women were everywhere,” she said. “That’s when it really became eye-opening to people that women were doing jobs that put them in danger.”
Returning to the Delaware Air National Guard in 1991, she learned to fly the C-130, the same aircraft that sparked her love of flying years earlier. Since then Timmons has flown in support of operations in Kosovo and Bosnia and Iraq. She was awarded the Bronze Star following a 2008 deployment to Afghanistan during her command of the 166th Operations Group at the New Castle County Airport.
Promoted to brigadier general in April 2011, Timmons took on her current job the following January.
Combat not just a man’s job
Timmons accepts the fact many see her as a leader in seeking gender equality.
“Yes, I’m somewhat of a trailblazer, but that’s not why I did it,” she said. “I happened to be in the arena where it was a man’s world, mostly, before I came along.”
“What I tell young people is, don’t let someone else’s ‘no’ be your ‘no.’ I didn’t realize it at the time, I just knew I wanted to pursue military aviation. I was really hooked on it.”
She’s absolutely comfortable with the idea of being a role model, she added.
“I did it for the right reason, I did it because I was qualified and that’s why I continue to do it, why I continue to serve, because I think I can still give back,” she said.
Timmons feels a natural inclination toward leadership, and realizes even the best of leaders have to be part of a team.
“To me, a leader is understanding your people and knowing how to get the best out of them,” she said.
When she’s not working, Timmons likes cooking and running, reads “voraciously” and enjoys time with her wife of three years, Lynn Wass, whom she describes as “the most important person in my life.”
Timmons said, “I was able to keep my personal life personal and still do my military duty, but I was very happy when President Obama and Vice President Biden and many others, including Gov. Markell, supported marriage equality, to bring us out of the closet and to allow us to serve openly.”
And she is looking forward to assuming command of the Delaware National Guard, which includes a promotion to two-star rank.
Under Vavala’s guidance, Timmons said Delaware has developed a mature group of well-trained and well-seasoned soldiers and airmen who support active duty forces. The soon-to-retire adjutant general has molded the guardsmen into a force that’s also been able to respond to natural disasters and emergencies that have affected communities up and down the state, she said.
And she’s proud to be carrying on his work.
“Both in the state and nationally, the National Guard is at the best it’s ever been,” Timmons said.