Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost assumed command of U.S. Transportation Command during a ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., on Oct. 15, becoming just the second woman to lead a combatant command.
Taking over for Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, Van Ovost will lead TRANSCOM as it comes off a string of high-profile logistical challenges.
“You had to keep the American military moving during a historic pandemic, and you delivered,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told the troops of TRANSCOM during the Oct. 15 ceremony. “You had to execute a complex retrograde in Somalia, and you delivered. And you had to conduct the largest noncombatant evacuation airlift in American history in Afghanistan, and you delivered.”
Van Ovost played a key role in these challenges, especially the Afghanistan evacuation, as head of Air Mobility Command, and she has spent much of her career dealing with logistics, previously leading an air refueling squadron, a flying training wing, and the Presidential Airlift Wing.
Those experiences, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said, make her uniquely qualified to lead the more than 122,000 Active-duty, National Guard, Reserve, and civilian personnel who are part of TRANSCOM.
“The sky is the limit with Jackie Van Ovost,” Milley said. “She will take TRANSCOM into the future. She will take you to your next rendezvous with destiny, as we say in the Army.”
Both Austin and Milley emphasized the importance of TRANSCOM to the U.S. in a new phase of strategic competition with peer adversaries such as China and Russia.
“Our overmatch capability will continue to rely on the logistical prowess and the ability to project power by TRANSCOM at great distances,” Milley said.
“Logistics remain at the core of our warfighting concept and our ability to project and sustain combat power,” added Austin. “That’s why this command is central to our operations in the 21st century and to our vision of truly integrated deterrence.”
Van Ovost noted that TRANSCOM’s mission is expansive and not always confined to combat operations.
“We understand our mission is critical for national defense to meet our national security objectives. I also know our role is not always to provide combat power, because we deliver hope on behalf of the American people,” Van Ovost said. “I’ve seen our values reflected in the kindness and compassion demonstrated by our teammates executing humanitarian operations around the globe and right here at home.”
At the same time, she said, as the U.S. shifts from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to competition with countries such as China, the command’s military demands will change.
“Know that TRANSCOM’s No. 1 priority remains constant: Warfighting readiness is the surest way to prevent war. We expect that our freedom to maneuver will be challenged; our logistics lines will be contested at every level. But together with our coalition partners and our commercial teammates, we will flatten the globe and underpin the lethality of our nation’s military arm,” Van Ovost said.
Gen. Mike Minihan assumed command of Air Mobility Command from Van Ovost during a ceremony Oct. 5 at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
Minihan, who last served as deputy commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, pinned on his fourth star hours earlier.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who presided over the ceremony, said Minihan now leads about 110,000 Total Force Airmen and oversees a fleet of nearly 1,100 aircraft at a time when modern warfare is changing.
“There will be a contest among connected operational systems, not simply individual units or platforms,” and “uncontested freedom of movement, provided by our mobility Airmen and enjoyed by the joint force, will be challenged by our strategic competitors,” noted Brown.
Flanked by a C-32 in Air Force Two markings and a KC-135 tanker, Brown praised Van Ovost, who has led the command since August 2020. Under her leadership, Brown said AMC Airmen flew 12,000 combat airlift sorties and 7,000 combat air refueling sorties, offloaded more than 33 million pounds of fuel to more than 600 Bomber Task Force missions, flew nearly 700 presidential and senior leader airlift missions, and delivered hundreds of aeromedical patients and millions of COVID-19 vaccines and critical supplies across the globe.
During the ceremony, Van Ovost received the Distinguished Service Medal with her first Oak Leaf Cluster for distinguishing herself while in command.
According to the citation, which was read during the ceremony, Van Ovost “fundamentally redefined rapid global mobility culture, invigorating competition, innovation, experimentation, and data-to-decision focus across the command; accelerating national defense strategy implementation; and energizing the Mobility Air Forces,” or MAF, “as the indispensable maneuver force for the joint force.”
She also helped negotiate incremental capability releases for the KC-46 Pegasus, helping to bring the Air Force’s newest weapon system online faster and easing the burden on the service’s legacy tankers.
Also under her leadership, “Air Mobility Command shouldered the nation’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, flying over 2,000 missions, delivering over 66 million pounds of cargo, and closing six forward operating bases; and subsequently executed the largest noncombatant evacuation operation in United States history, facilitating the evacuation of over 124,000 American citizens and Afghan partners in 18 days,” according to the citation.
The military needs “every Jackie Van Ovost that we can get,” Austin said during the TRANSCOM ceremony, pointing to her trailblazing career as a test pilot who has flown more than 30 kinds of aircraft for the Air Force.
“Gen. Van Ovost, in the 21st century, careers like yours are a fighting imperative,” Austin said. “And as she likes to say, as young women looking up, it’s hard to be what you cannot see. So Gen. Van Ovost knows the importance of breaking barriers, of getting results in bringing teams together, and she’s used to challenges that have never been tackled before.”
Van Ovost is currently the only female four-star general in the Defense Department and just the fourth in Air Force history. She and retired Gen. Lori J. Robinson are now the only women to lead a unified combatant command—Robinson headed U.S. Northern Command and NORAD from 2016 to 2018.
Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, however, was slated to receive her fourth star and take command of U.S. Southern Command in a ceremony Oct. 29.