Lt. Gen. Leslie F. Kenne, USAF, Retired
Silver Wings and Three Stars
Inducted in 2009
When sophomore Leslie Farr Kenne decided to transfer to Auburn University, flight was her motivation—not flight as in fleeing, but rather flight as in flying military aircraft. Her single-minded dedication resulted in Kenne being the first female ROTC cadet to graduate from Auburn and the first ROTC-commissioned female officer in the United States Air Force. While an undergraduate, Kenne qualified for her pilot’s license and switched majors from physics to aerospace engineering. One would think that the cockpit would be the next logical step; however, in 1970 the U.S. military refused to allow women to fly aircraft.
Undeterred, Kenne entered the aircraft maintenance field and served as a flight line maintenance officer in operations. In 1974, First Lt. Kenne leveraged her aerospace engineering degree to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School—another first. She earned her wings flying as a flight test engineer in T-38s and F-4s with test flights in various other aircraft, such as F-16s and U-2 spy planes.
Throughout her military career, Kenne balanced command experience with continuous technical and academic training. While working her way from testing into management of aircraft development programs and then into electronic systems, she earned a master’s degree from Webster College in St. Louis, attended the Armed Forces Staff College, National War College, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In the course of her 32-year career, Kenne has directed three major programs—Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared System for Night (LANTIRN), F-16, and Joint Strike Fighter. At the Pentagon, she served first as division chief and then deputy director of acquisition for fighters, bombers, and munitions.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, military leaders recognized that the command and control systems for intelligence, weaponry, and operations were obsolete in the face of such threats. Kenne was the first choice to fill the newly created position of deputy chief of staff for Warfighting Integration. In her own words she described her mission as being “to assure information dominance and achieve battlespace effects … to exploit America’s current technological advantage through an emphasis on innovation and integration … [and to] do this by shortening the cycle time of the ‘kill chain’ (i.e., find, fix, track, target, engage and assess).”
Today, as the president of the Kenne Group, she shares her expertise by serving on the boards of SRI International, Harris Corp., and Unisys Corp. She also serves on the Air Force Studies Board, an organization under the National Academy of Sciences that performs studies on topics selected by Air Force leadership.
Retired Gen. Richard B. Myers, USAF, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, , summed up Kenne’s career this way: “She would never make a big deal out of the fact that she was a pioneer in so many ways. She competed and rose to the highest levels of the Air Force due to great competence, immense analytical skills, but most of all due to her leadership skills and ability to get things done. Her engineering talents and education were fundamental to all her accomplishments.