Joane Mathews has many firsts in her combined active duty and National Guard military career. Some of these include being the first female commander of First Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, as well as Wisconsin’s first non-medical female colonel. Now Mathews, a Lac du Flambeau Chippewa tribal member, can add Wisconsin’s first female general officer in the Army National Guard.
Mathews went through a gamut of emotions upon learning about the promotion. “I was shocked,” she said. “I was happy. I was very honored to be promoted—very blessed and very thankful.”
However, there was also a feeling of sadness that came with the promotion. In the past, her father, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, usually witnessed her official ceremonies. “He wasn’t able to be here to see the pinning, because he passed away nine years ago,” she said.
Mathews gives credit to her parents for being supportive but not pushy. Growing up within the Lac du Flambeau community, she credits her tribal values as one of the many reasons for her success as an officer.
“I think one of the big influences was the importance of family, the importance of taking care of our elders and respecting our elders,” she said. “Respecting others. That definitely helped me throughout my career. To not be judgmental. Don’t judge others just by how they look, but what they look like inside.”
Mathews’ career includes serving as a maintenance test pilot in Germany and a flight instructor at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Mathews also served in the no-fly zone of northern Iraq as part of Operation Provide Comfort, which helped protect Kurdish refugees after Desert Storm. When her active military career ended in 1997, Mathews worked as a personnel specialist with the University of Wisconsin’s cooperative extension program. When a friend told her of a full-time opening with the Wisconsin National Guard, it opened a whole new realm of service for her. With a position as a state family program officer, part of her duties included “taking care of the families and integrating them in with the military so that they understand what their military member is experiencing.” She is now the Wisconsin National Guard’s Assistant Adjutant General for Readiness and Training.
Matthews uses her experience with military families in her home life. She said her husband, Ric, is retired military and knows how to motivate her and help meet all of her challenges. She also said her two daughters, Shannon and Lindsey, have “known what the military’s like since birth,” seeing her fly and having a list of chores to do at home when she was training or studying at places such as the Army War College.
While her husband and daughters had an integral part in pinning her beret and service bars at the April 4 ceremony, there was another special moment when the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Thundercloud Singers set up their drum and sang in her honor.
“A close friend of the family is Ho-Chunk,” Mathews said. “I wanted part of that in my ceremony. That’s who I am. That’s where I came from. Ever since I was little, we would sit around the drum. We would sing, and we would dance. When they sang an Honor Song honoring me, it was also an Army Song. What they also did, which totally blew me away, they gave me a Pendleton blanket. That is a huge honor. The gentleman that gave it to me is a veteran. I felt very humbled; I felt like I should be giving him something, because he had served in previous conflicts.”
During her career, Mathews mentored Native youth and Native women in particular. For Mathews, the military can be an area of training where Native youth can learn what she calls “soft skills”—leadership qualities that are in addition to a service member’s primary assignment.
“The military has given me so much in so many ways,” she said. “I think if you’re looking for getting leadership skills, learning how to be a team member and a team leader, learning how to be a manager—all of those soft skills that you learn in the military, I think, will give you value. If you don’t make the military a career, those attributes that you gain from the military you can bring back to the civilian world.”