Donnell became first woman to command Air Guard when she was appointed by Hochul in April
√ Donnell is 1 of only 5 women to attain two-star rank of major general in New York National Guard
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced the promotion of Denise Donnell – the first woman to command the New York Air National Guard – to the two-star rank of major general. Donnell was the first woman to command one of the New York Air National Guard's five flying wings, and is one of only five women to attain the rank of major general in the New York National Guard.
During an afternoon ceremony at the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, Donnell's two-star general's rank was pinned on by her father, Dr. Robert Donnell, and brother, Air National Guard Technical Sgt. John Donnell. Hochul appointed Donnell as commander of the 5,800 airmen of the nation's largest Air Guard contingent last April.
"I'm thrilled to celebrate Maj. Gen. Donnell's historic achievements and her continued dedication to our state," Hochul said. "New York is so fortunate to have individuals such as Maj. Gen. Donnell who are willing to devote their careers to public service, answer the call and put themselves in harm's way to help their fellow New Yorkers and serve their country."
Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said, "I am proud to celebrate the historic achievement of Maj. Gen. Denise Donnell's promotion. Maj. Gen. Donnell has answered the call to service admirably, unwaveringly serving the people of New York and our country. Our state is grateful to have dedicated public servants like Maj. Gen. Donnell."
The New York Air National Guard members under Donnell's command respond when disaster strikes in New York, and conduct critical missions overseas. Members of the Air National Guard's 107th Attack Wing, which is based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, were the first military members who responded to the deadly blizzard that hit Buffalo during the Christmas holiday. Men and women of the 107th rescued stranded motorists in whiteout conditions, transported critically ill patients, and one member even delivered a baby girl and then transported the mother and baby to the hospital.
The 109th Airlift Wing, which is based at Stratton Air National Guard base, flies LC-130s and is the only unit in the world with heavy-lift aircraft equipped with skis. These aircraft are capable of landing on snow and ice, supporting the nation's arctic strategy and important climate research being conducted in Antarctica by the National Science Foundation in Antarctic. Other New York Air Guard troops fly needed supplies around the world, protect American and allied troops by flying remotely controlled aircraft on combat air patrols, track aircraft in nation's skies as part of NORAD, and stand ready to conduct rescues at sea. New York also has the distinction of being the first state to have a woman join its National Guard: World War II veteran and nurse Norma Parsons joined in 1956, attached to the 106th Tactical Hospital.
Donnell said, "It is an honor to be recognized by Gov. Hochul, the first woman to lead our state. These stars are not about me: They're about making a difference for the nearly 6,000 men and women of the New York Air National Guard, and a reflection of their collective accomplishments."
Adjutant general of New York State, Maj. Gen. Raymond Shields said, "Denise Donnell is an outstanding leader, and experienced pilot, who has distinguished herself at all levels of command. I am confident that the men and women of the New York Air National Guard will continue to meet every challenge they are given under her leadership. She is well-deserving of this important promotion."
Donnell began her military career as a U.S. Navy aviator in 1993, flying P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft. She served in the Navy until 2002, when she joined the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing, based at Stewart Air National Guard Based in Newburgh, where she learned to fly the giant C-5A Galaxy airlifter. Donnell then commanded the 105th's aircraft maintenance and maintenance squadrons – and mastered flying the C-17 Globemaster III before transferring to the 109th Airlift Wing in 2013.
She commanded the 109th Maintenance Group from 2013-16. During that period, she qualified on the unique ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft flown by the 109th Airlift Wing and commanded Air Force support to the National Science Foundation at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, during the 2014-15 support season.
Donnell was assigned as vice commander of the 105th Airlift Wing in 2016 and, the following year, she assumed command of the 105th Airlift Wing. She remained in that role until March 2022, a month before she was named New York Air National Guard commander by Hochul.
She graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor's degree in foreign service; the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base; and the National Defense University with a master's degree in government information leadership.
Donnell has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Combat Readiness Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.
She and her husband, Greg, live in Clifton Park with their children, Alison and Max.