2 female generals, recently promoted, spotlighted in White House remarks

MATT SEYLER
·4 min read

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put the spotlight on two female generals who were recently promoted to head four-star combatant commands during remarks in honor of International Women's Day at the White House Monday.

Austin announced the promotions of Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson and Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost on Saturday, and both women flanked Biden at Monday's event.

"We need little girls and boys, both, who have grown up dreaming of serving for their country to know this is what generals in the United States Armed Forces look like," Biden said.

PHOTO: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during an event with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to mark International Women's Day, March 8, 2021, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
PHOTO: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during an event with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to mark International Women's Day, March 8, 2021, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Richardson will be given her fourth star as she leaves her commanding role at U.S. Army North, in San Antonio, Texas, to lead U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Doral, Florida.

Van Ovost will leave her post as commander of Air Mobility Command to take charge of U.S. Transportation Command, both located at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

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Harris called them both "the best of the best" and noted the short time that women have been able to officially hold combat roles.

"While it has only been five years since all combat jobs have opened to women, women have been in the line of fire, risking their lives to protect our nation, long before that," she said.

PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during International Women's Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during International Women's Day in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The New York Times reported last month that the Pentagon's most senior leaders agreed these two women should be promoted to elite, four-star commands, but that then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, worried that if they even raised their names the Trump White House would replace them with its own candidates before leaving office. The newspaper reported their recommendations were held until after the November elections.

"They were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and 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. "This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark International Women's Day, March 8, 2021, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark International Women's Day, March 8, 2021, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

"It's hard to be what you can't see," Biden said during his remarks in the East Room Monday afternoon. "We need the young women just beginning their careers in the military service to see it and know that no door will be closed to them."

At U.S. Army North, Richardson was responsible for all Title 10 troops along the Southwest border as well active duty service members assigned to the military's COVID-19 response efforts in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander, U.S. Army North (USARNORTH), speaks to the Soldiers of D Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)in Del Rio, Texas, Dec. 24, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Michael Eaddy/DoD Support via Dvidshub.net)
PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander, U.S. Army North (USARNORTH), speaks to the Soldiers of D Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)in Del Rio, Texas, Dec. 24, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Michael Eaddy/DoD Support via Dvidshub.net)

In her new role at SOUTHCOM, Richardson will oversee more than 1,200 military and civilian personnel responsible for the regions of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Richardson is married to another general officer, Lt. Gen. Jim Richardson, the deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command. They have one daughter and a grandchild.

"Gen. Richardson and her husband Jim deployed to war together in 2003 as helicopter battalion commanders flying dangerous missions over Iraq," Austin said Monday.

PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson and Lt. Gen. James Richardson discuss their dual military family life, which has spanned more than three decades in Washington, D.C. (Joint Base San Antonio)
PHOTO: Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson and Lt. Gen. James Richardson discuss their dual military family life, which has spanned more than three decades in Washington, D.C. (Joint Base San Antonio)

As commander of Transportation Command, Van Ovost will be responsible for a large fleet of military and commercial planes, trains, automobiles and information systems.

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During her more than 30-year career, Van Ovost has also "commanded an air refueling squadron, flying training wing and the Presidential Airlift Wing," according to her military bio. "She also served as the Director of Staff for Headquarters Air Force, Vice Director of the Joint Staff, the Director of Mobility Forces for U.S. Central Command and as the Vice Commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center."

"Gen. Van Ovost was a pioneer in development of the rugged C-7 cargo plane, conducting dirt takeoff and landings and airdrops in this mammoth aircraft as one of its very first test pilots -- and becoming a test pilot she also achieved her dream of flying fighter aircraft, even though women were still barred from flying in combat," Austin said during his remarks.

PHOTO: Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Air Mobility Command commander, listens to Col. Doug Jackson, 621st Contingency Response Wing commander, about the wing mission, Aug. 31, 2020, on Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal/621st Contingency Response Wing )
PHOTO: Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Air Mobility Command commander, listens to Col. Doug Jackson, 621st Contingency Response Wing commander, about the wing mission, Aug. 31, 2020, on Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal/621st Contingency Response Wing )

Van Ovost graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1988 and logged more than 4,200 flight hours as command pilot for more than 30 aircraft.

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

2 female generals, recently promoted, spotlighted in White House remarks originally appeared on abcnews.go.com