The Very Modern Model of a Modern Major General: Denise M. Donnell

Virginia Thorpe, Sr. High Staff Writer

Brigadier General Denise M. Donnell (Air National Guard) was promoted to Major General on Friday January 6th at the Stratton Air National Guard Base. 

Donnell grew up in a Navy family and has lived in Japan, Tennessee, Montana and now lives in New York. She graduated from Georgetown University in 1993 with a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Foreign Service, and later earned her commission through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. program. Donnell spent nine years as a Naval Aviator and joined the New York Air National Guard in 2002. Over the course of the past twenty years she has worked up in the ranks and was made a Brigadier General on December 31st, 2020 and named the Assistant Adjutant General of the 105th Airlift Wing (Latham, NY). Now she is the Assistant Adjutant General of the 109th Airlift Wing (Scotia, NY) and oversees more than 5,800 ANGB personnel, as of this past April. The 109th is the largest Airlift Wing in the country and is the only one in the world to have heavy-lift aircraft with skis in the world. This means they can effectively land in frozen territories and is aiding the National Science Foundation’s climate research there. 


She is a wife and mother of two, an older sister and the pride of her family. Her accomplishments span from the following:

-Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters Air Medal

-Aerial Achievement Medal Navy Commendation Medal

-Navy Achievement Medal with gold star

-Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation Antarctica Service Medal

-Armed Force Expeditionary Medal

-Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with bronze star

-Armed Forces Reserve Medal with two ‘M’ devices and hourglass

-Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal


She had more than 4,100 logged flight hours and has flown seven different aircraft:

– C-5A

– C-17A

– C-130

– LC-130 

– P-3C

– T-34

– T-44


Donnell was told by her father to be a ‘life-long learner’ when he pinned her wings on her close to thirty years ago, and she has lived by those words ever since. She spoke to the assembly and told the men and women whom she oversees that what they do, no matter how small, makes a difference somewhere. She said, “The stars on my shoulders are not about me, they are about you…”  

On January 6th, at 1500 hours her second stars were pinned on by her younger brother ANG Technical Sgt. John Donnell and father, Navy Captain Robert Donnel (Ret.) who also swore her in. As Major General she is now one of five women in the county to attain this rank. 

As a sign of her new rank a two star flag was unfurled; this flag stands in the office of the receiving party. JROTC Cadet Edward Rosario unfurled Donnell’s flag. 

The Schenectady High JROTC and her Scout Troop, 3357G of Rotterdam were in attendance. The JROTC served as color guard. In the weeks preceding the ceremony her Scout Troop has been humming the tune to A Very Modern Model of A Modern Major General, now they can call her one.

It was a wonderful ceremony to watch, and one I am not likely to forget.