Adjutant Gen. Ashenhurst First Woman To Lead Ohio National Guard

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Ohio's Adjutant General Deborah Ashenhurst
Ohio's Adjutant General Deborah Ashenhurst

In 2010, Governor – Elect John Kasich made Ohio history by naming Deborah Ashenhurst as the first woman adjutant general.

In the National Guard “adjutant” means the highest ranking officer. Deborah Ashenhurst assumed the duties of adjutant general on January 10th, 2011 – the day Governor John Kasich was sworn into office. Kasich’s choice was historic – Ashenhurst was the first woman to head the Ohio National Guard.

“I’m the fifth nationwide but I’m the first for the state of Ohio and what a tremendous honor,” says Ashenhurst.

Ashenhurst joined the National Guard in 1978. Several years later, she asked her father for career advice.

“This had been an almost lifetime goal of mine,” Ashenhurst says. “When I was a lieutenant, and my father is a career National Guard officer, I talked about what the future opportunities were and he said, ‘Deb, there’s no reason that you can’t become the assistant adjutant general.’ I don’t think that as a woman he ever imaged that I would have the opportunity to become the adjutant general. So I took the tough assignments, pursued opportunities to get a good base of experience so that if the opportunity every presented itself, I would be ready at least.”

As a member of John Kasich’s cabinet, she reports directly to the governor to assist in times of emergency – after a natural disaster for example. But she also commands more than 15,000 Ohio National Guard soldiers and airmen – about 1200 of whom are involved in military actions overseas.

“So of late, unfortunately, we’ve been very busy along that track also with sending individuals and units off to support our nation’s interests in foreign countries,” Ashenhurst says.

There have, of course, been losses. Those deaths, Ashenhurst says, she takes personally.

“Thus far in my career the hardest thing I’ve had to do was escort our fallen heroes home from Afghanistan. Just pure timing or the hand of God that I was over there when the incident happened and was able to negotiate through the bureaucratic nonsense to escort our fallen heroes home,” Ashenhurst says.

Her domestic duties also include playing a part in homeland security. The Ohio Air National Guard– with its air defense artillery and F-16 fighters – is also under command.

Ashenhurst has done all of her graduate studies at the Army War College. Much of the rest of her education was obtained here in the Columbus area.

“I am truly a humble Ohioan. I started my high school and years below right here in central Ohio – part of it in Springfield, Ohio. Then I started college at Ohio State University. Found this wonderful man, fell in love, took off for Europe for a few years, continued my undergraduate work there, and did some college work there that offered some college credit back in the ‘80s, then came back, did a lot of work at Franklin University, then pulled all those things together for my degree from the University of New York,” Ashenhurst says.

Major General Ashenhurst now works to keep balance between the personal and professional parts of her life.

“From the moment I got this job I wanted to show that we can do a great job, we can be great soldiers and airmen; but that we also have a commitment to our family and our community and that you have to find a way to balance that. And I’m actually known to put grandchildren time on my calendar and block that time so that the folks who are scheduling my days can’t keep me from keeping that balance in my life,” she says.

One of the things that helps, she says, is running.

“Running is how I maintain my sanity and that’s where I do most of my private thinking and can solve about any problem while I’m out running,” Ashenhurst says.

In closing, Major General Ashenhurst offers this advice:
“Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Don’t ever think that you’re too old to try something new or get a new start or take advantage of an opportunity. You can’t be so risk-averse that you’re going to miss the great things in life,” Ashenhurst says.

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