President Biden has nominated two women to serve as the first female heads of major commands. If confirmed by the Senate, Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson would become the next chief of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Biden also nominated Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost to serve as commander of U.S. Transportation Command, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
Richardson would be the second woman to reach the rank of Army general, the Association for the U.S. Army (AUSA) reported, the first being now-retired Gen. Ann Dunwoody. She currently serves as commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and is married to Lt. Gen. James Richardson, deputy commander of U.S Army Futures Command.
A Colorado native, Richardson oversaw homeland defense and military responses to national emergencies such as hurricanes, according to a feature story published by the command. In the story, she and her husband discussed the adjustments they had to make during what now is approaching 35 years of marriage. It was particularly daunting, they said, when both received orders to deploy to Iraq just as their daughter had become a teenager. They made arrangements for the girl to live with her grandparents in Colorado and enroll in the same high school she had attended.
“I think it’s important to share the challenges that you have and also the rewarding things that come out of it as well, and share your experiences,” she said, as the couple addressed a symposium on women’s leadership held in Washington, D.C. “We didn’t have necessarily anybody to share dual military experiences or tell my husband and I, ‘Hey, try this.”
Richardson entered the Army after attending college in her home state. Like her husband, she was trained as an aviator. Staying together became more difficult as their respective careers progressed.
“The compromises we made – both of us did that – really made us more marketable as officers in the Army,” she said. “We didn’t have the typical assignments that just a straight helicopter pilot would have. I think as we got higher in rank, that really paid off.”
Van Ovost now heads Air Mobility Command, also based at Scott. A 1984 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Van Ovost holds several post-graduate degrees and has completed the service’s test pilot and squadron officer schools. Rated as a command pilot, she has flown numerous aircraft in the Air Force inventory in both training and operational positions.
“We all face similar struggles and challenges, and we need to reach out and support each other,” Van Ovost said, speaking to a 2019 audience at a Women’s Leadership Symposium at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “We should be open about the experiences that we have had and build on our networks. We must embrace who we are and encourage each other to reach our goals.”