Women on Top

Starting out with just a game-changing idea, a bulletproof business plan, or an electrifying design, these women are reinventing their industries and demolishing boys' clubs from the ranks of the military to Silicon Valley. They're all under 40, but those aren't stars in their eyes: They're planning a revolution.

By Sophie Moura

October 20, 2011 9:00 AM
Share
Peter Hapak
Back Next

Top Military Commander

Lieutenant Colonel Tracy Onufer, 37, Commander, 16th Special Operations Squad

Résumé: Only the second woman operational commander in the ultra-selective Air Force Special Ops, Onufer supports global undercover missions with a staff of 165 — most of them men. Over nine deployments, she's won 17 medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross, the military's highest aviation honor, for protecting her aircraft on a 2003 mission in Iraq.

Background Check: "Growing up, my father encouraged me to study engineering. It was great practice for a guy-centric field like Special Ops. In Air Force navigator school, there were about 11 women in my class of more than 200. I graduated in 1997 and qualified for my dream assignment on a Special Ops aircraft."

Big Break: "The early promotion rate for officers in the military is about 3 percent, so being selected as a lieutenant colonel two years before schedule was amazing. So was becoming commander of the 16th Special Ops Squadron this year. My heart was racing my first day on the job — and I'd forgotten to wear deodorant! A month later, when the younger officers started asking for advice, I knew I'd proven myself."

Surprise Perk: "I love deploying. You're focused on the mission, with no distractions. My last deployment, I worked 14-hour days, got eight hours of sleep a night, and worked out six days a week."

Restart Slideshow

Meet More Successful Women