President Joe Biden on March 6 nominated USAF Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost—currently the U.S. military’s only woman with four stars—to command U.S. Transportation Command, and Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson for a fourth star and to take over as commander of U.S. Southern Command. If confirmed, Van Ovost and Richardson would become the second and third women to lead combatant commands.
During a March 8 speech at the White House commemorating International Women’s Day, Biden said the two generals “pushed open the doors of opportunity” for female service members, calling them “outstanding and eminently qualified warriors and patriots.”
“Each of these women have led careers demonstrating incomparable skill, integrity, and duty to country,” he said as Van Ovost and Richardson stood by his side. Having both of them lead combatant commands shows little girls and boys that “this is what generals in the United States armed forces look like,” Biden added.
Van Ovost is currently the commander of Air Mobility Command, and if confirmed, she will become the second USAF woman to lead a combatant command, following retired Gen. Lori J. Robinson, who led U.S. Northern Command from May 2016-May 2018.
She is a former experimental test pilot and command pilot with more than 4,200 hours in more than 30 aircraft. A 1988 Air Force Academy graduate, she’s commanded at the squadron, wing, and major command level. She also served as director of staff for Headquarters Air Force and vice director of the Joint Staff.
Richardson is currently the commander of U.S. Army North.
The promotions of Van Ovost and Richardson were in the works last year, but former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said last month they were delayed based on concerns about how the White House would react to two women being promoted.
“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,” Esper told The New York Times, adding, “They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing.”
When asked about the Times story during a meeting with reporters Feb. 24, Van Ovost said, “I look forward to the day when demonstrated capability and not demographics makes the headlines.”
“When I think about the value of diversity in our Air Force … I’m heartened to see the progress that we’ve made,” she said. “But we have to begin with why, right? Diversity is a warfighting imperative.”
Also March 6, Biden nominated Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino, who currently serves as commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, to become the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. If confirmed, he would replace Adm. Philip S. Davidson, who has led the command since May 2018. Vice Adm. Samuel J. Paparo Jr. has been nominated to become admiral and take over U.S. Pacific Fleet.