Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost is expected to be nominated to lead U.S. Transportation Command, a pick originally expected last fall but The New York Times reported Feb. 17 it was delayed based on concerns about the White House’s reaction at the time.
Van Ovost, who has led Air Mobility Command since August, and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, head of U.S. Army North, were both set to lead combatant commands, but then-Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told the Times the nominations were delayed because, “I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought DOD was playing politics.” Richardson is expected to be nominated to lead U.S. Southern Command.
“They were the best qualified,” Esper told the Times. “We were doing the right thing.”
The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley will send the nominations to the White House in the coming weeks.
Pentagon officials told the newspaper that DOD leadership held off on the nominations because former President Donald J. Trump had feuded with Esper and White House officials were not likely to support the nominations because they are women, even though the administration had picked women for prominent military roles, including as Air Force Secretary. Officials were concerned the nominations would be replaced by Trump White House officials before leaving office, according to the report.
A spokesperson for Van Ovost at Air Mobility Command declined to comment on the report.
Van Ovost took over AMC in August 2020, and with the retirement of her predecessor Gen. Maryanne Miller, she became the military’s only woman in a four-star leadership position. If picked for TRANSCOM and confirmed, she would join former Gen. Lori J. Robinson as the only USAF female generals to lead combatant commands. Robinson led U.S. Northern Command before retiring in 2018.
Van Ovost also would return TRANSCOM leadership to the Air Force. Current command boss U.S. Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons is the only non-blue suiter to command TRANSCOM in a permanent role since the command’s inception in 1987.
Throughout her career, Van Ovost has been a test pilot flying more than 4,200 hours in more than 30 aircraft, including some of the earliest flights on the C-17. Her leadership roles include the Air Force’s director of staff, the vice director of the Joint Staff, and the Joint Staff’s deputy director for politico-military affairs.
“I was very focused on being a pilot, and being the best pilot I could be, and to make a difference in that way,” Van Ovost told Air Force Magazine in an interview when she took over command of AMC. “And here we are, standing at the precipice of what might be called a pinnacle of military leadership. But frankly, it’s not so much a pinnacle. For me, it’s a new beginning. It’s a new opportunity to ask key questions, to shape the force in a way to make sense, and provide clarity to the strategic environment that we live in.”