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Armagno reaches the stars

Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, poses with her parents, Anthony and Naida Armagno, outside of the The Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C during her promotion ceremony to colonel in September 2007. (Courtesy photo)

Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, poses with her parents, Anthony and Naida Armagno, outside of the The Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C during her promotion ceremony to colonel in September 2007. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- An eight-year-old girl walked up to her father in their suburban Chicago home, eager to share with him her newest revelation. "I'm going to be an astronaut," she said. "You can do and be anything you want to be, as long as you work hard," the girl's father replied.

Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, started reaching for the stars at a young age.

"I was brought up to always think big," Armagno said. "I was inspired by NASA's shuttle program; I paid attention to every launch and that's what I wanted to do. So, it really just kind of fit."

As the daughter of two language teachers, her father an Italian immigrant who taught Italian and Spanish, and her mother an American who taught French, hard work and discipline were household ethos.

"I grew up in a very loving home where excellence was expected," Armagno said. "I was taught to do my best and be my best at all times."

That devotion to excellence shone through her academic prowess. With a poster of Sally Ride, the first woman in space, on her bedroom wall as her inspiration, Armagno became the valedictorian of her high school class and was voted, "Most likely to succeed."

According to her biography on, Ride beat out 1,000 other applicants for a spot in NASA's astronaut program. Like Ride, Armagno also earned a selective position.

After high school, Armagno became a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Some would say that the desire to serve is in her blood.

"Both of my grandfathers were in the military," Armagno said. "My Italian grandfather rose to be the highest enlisted rank in the Italian Carabinieri and my American grandfather stowed away aboard a Navy ship during World War I when he was just 14 or 15 years old. This desire to serve is in my genes."

Armagno's drive to succeed wasn't limited to the classroom.

"At the Academy, I remember working with a captain who then promoted to major," Armagno said. "I saw how he operated and worked and I thought, 'I could do that.' The more experience I got, the more work I did -- the different positions that I held. I always said that I could do that next step, next position, next job... and I would always think, ' I hope that I get the opportunity to do it.' I made it my goal to become a squadron commander."

It was this confidence and perseverance that eventually led this young space officer to far surpass her goal of becoming a squadron commander and, like her childhood dream, she reached the stars.

On Jan. 23, 2012, Armagno became the first female installation commander at Vandenberg, home to the 30th Space Wing and the Department of Defense's premier West coast spaceport. Almost one year later, Armagno received a nomination to the rank of brigadier general. When promoted, Armagno will be one of 28 female generals in the Air Force.

Like Ride, this brigadier general select is in a position to inspire young women.

"I've made it to such a rank that I can be an example for them," Armagno said. "It's important to look up your chain of command and identify with someone and say, 'I want to be in that position someday and I want to do it even better.'"

From the Women Air Force Service pilots of World War II to the Air Force recently opening combat jobs to women; female Airmen have a track record for setting new standards. Armagno believes that the future for women in the Air Force is limitless.

"What I see for women in the future of the Air Force is that the sky is the limit," she said. "Like my parents said, you can do and be anything you want to in our Air Force as long as you work hard. I believe that."

(Editors note: Col. Nina Armagno has been assigned to the 21st Space Wing five times, most recently from June 2009-June 2011 as the 21st Operations Group commander.)

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