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Auburn Sentinel

Alice Astafan Shares Her Story

May 23, 2024 10:33AM ● By Annie Kerr

Donned in her red, white, and blue, Alice Astafan poses proudly with her book in her office. Photo by Annie Kerr


SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) – Being the first female two-star general in the Air Force Reserves is only one of 85-year-old trailblazer Alice Astafan’s many accomplishments. She was also a CEO, worked at the Pentagon, was personally appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is now a published author.

But that’s merely scratching the surface. Astafan’s memoir, “Lady Leader Leaves Lasting Legacy,” takes the reader through a detailed journey of her extraordinary life, leaving inspiration and courage along the way.


Astafan stands as one woman general among the many male generals. Photo courtesy of Alice Astafan


Messenger Publishing Group had a recent conversation with Astafan at her Carmichael home. Tucked away in a peaceful neighborhood, the Astafan house is warm and inviting. Astafan is quick-witted, energetic and wildly interesting. “Why do newspaper people care so much about my age?” she laughed when asked.

A longtime Carmichael resident, Astafan hails from a farm in rural Alabama, which is obvious when her honey-sweet Southern accent comes out. Born Nora Alice Davidson, she spent her childhood among eight other siblings (seven also served in the military), helping with farmwork and living off the land.

Humble beginnings - Alice Astafan shows a painting of her farmhouse in Alabama that her grandfather built. Photo by Annie Kerr


Dreaming of a bigger life, she later put herself through the University of Alabama by working various jobs on campus. There she studied biology and chemistry. “Roll Tide!” she said at one point of the newspaper interview, alluding to the Alabama slang.

Astafan was first inspired to serve her country when she attended a movie theater at age 19. She saw a cutout of a woman dressed in an Air Force uniform, advertising women’s enrollment in Officer Training School. This piqued her interest, so she joined the Air Force in 1960, where she would become very successful. Little did she know that she would go on to make history as the first female two-star general in the Air Force Reserves. To clarify, a two-star general is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Being one of the only women among thousands of men in the Air Force, it would be safe to assume there was some disadvantage due to the time period. However, Astafan was sure to point out, she didn’t face much sexism or prejudice in the military, and if anything, the men she worked with were protective and supportive of her. Astafan reminisced that they recognized her work ethic and loyalty and gave her the promotions she deserved.

“Throughout my career, I had 42 male supervisors and they all treated me with great respect,” she said.

Astafan’s military career lasted 38 years, taking her throughout the world. Her duties included developing and finalizing logistics plans, inventorying war readiness material, coordinating and planning support for aircraft and hundreds of personnel, and much more.

From Thailand to Austria to England to Africa, she traveled near and far, eventually landing at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City in 1965, where she met her future husband, Peter Astafan, a civilian employee. The pair married in a small ceremony in 1968.

“He was perfect,” Astafan said. “He didn’t have a jealous bone in his body.”

When Peter was assigned to McClellan Air Force Base in 1973, he and Astafan moved to Carmichael. Shortly after their move, the Astafans welcomed a baby boy named Patrick. He would be their only child. To juggle motherhood and her booming career, Astafan stepped down from her 13-year stint of active duty and joined the Air Force Reserves. This gave her more ability to care for Patrick and still do the job she loved. Impressing all her supervisors, it was only a few years later in 1988 when she was named a general and received her first star.

What made Astafan so successful? She said it was all about following the Air Force mission, being a team player and working to the best of her ability. Her grit and determination were recognized and she proved herself capable every single time she was promoted.

While continuing her successful career, the unimaginable happened when Patrick was diagnosed with leukemia in 1992. While Patrick was fighting leukemia, Astafan somehow kept rising up the military ladder, traveling and working in logistics at the Pentagon, officially receiving her second star in 1993, while also supporting her son.

Unfortunately, Patrick lost his hard-fought battle in 1994 at age 20, which turned Astafan’s world upside down.

“He was a jewel, he really was,” Astafan said. Patrick’s legacy has since been honored with a scholarship fund in his name at both Oklahoma Christian University and California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), which has helped fund nearly 200 students’ education.

Then in 2021, Peter died from retrograde amnesia, which was another unimaginable loss.

“We had been married for 53 years, four months, and nine days. My life will never be the same,” Astafan wrote in her memoir.


Alice Astafan is accompanied by her son, Patrick, and husband, Peter, as she is pinned with her first star. Photo courtesy of Alice Astafan


When asked how she kept going after losing both her husband and son, Astafan points to sky, referring to God. She honors both Patrick and Peter in her memoir’s Chapter 15, “My Soulmate and My Angel – Love is the Greatest Blessing of All”.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Astafan immediately dove into a new role as the CEO of the Federal Technology Center, which works with state, federal, and local government contracts. She stayed in that role for 10 years. In addition, she was appointed by former Gov. Schwarzenegger to serve as the chairperson on the California Veterans Board. She served on 20 boards of directors with no compensation, wrote and gave 100 speeches across the country, was the grand marshal of the Sacramento and Elk Grove Veteran’s Day parades, and even got her master’s in both early childhood education and international affairs from California State University at Sacramento.

Astafan hopes her passion for this country will inspire American youth to serve their country, chase their dreams and believe in themselves.

“Quite frankly, the country needs women to serve,” Astafan said. “We need good honest people to serve our nation so our way of life can forever be safe and in place. Why do so many people want to come to America? Think about it.”

She provides words of wisdom to young people:You do not have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You can dream big, set goals, work honestly and diligently, and become most anything in America. Also, it is not what happens to you along the way, it is how you handle those things. Life is short; it is like a drop of dew on a blade of grass; in the morning it is there but it is soon over. Make your time on this Earth count for something!”

There is so much more to her story. Astafan has lived what can only be described as a remarkable life and has changed the lives of others, as well. Devoted to every role she has had, whether it was picking cotton on her childhood farm, being a wife and mother, a mentor, a CEO or a two-star general, Astafan has lived a life full of hard work, selflessness, patriotism and integrity.

Leaving no stone unturned, Astafan’s book is filled to the brim with her past speeches, every article written about her and a vast array of photos. It is now available to purchase on her website (aliceastafan.com) or on Amazon. Click here to order the book online. 


"Lady Leader Leaves Lasting Legacy" by Alice Astafan is now available. Photo courtesy of Alice Astafan

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