First Female Combatant Commander Nominee May Get Quick Confirmation

Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson
Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson

Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson on Thursday appeared headed to swift confirmation as the first woman to head a combatant command as the next dual-hat commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

"I look forward to moving your nominations through the U.S. Senate," Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told both Robinson and Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the nominee to be the next Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and U.S. European Command, at the end of their joint confirmation hearing.

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, and Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, also pledged to support both nominations. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking SASC Democrat, told Robinson, currently commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, that in addition to her new responsibilities "you will also make a bit of history as the first female to lead a U.S. combatant command."

To meet the concerns of McCain and several other committee members, Robinson said one her first actions, if confirmed, would be to go to the Mexican border to gauge how the command could contribute to the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security in stopping the flow of "black tar" heroin into the U.S.

"It's important for me to work the landscape," Robinson said. "I commit to you I will do that -- go down to the border and look at it." McCain said "I'll be glad to escort you." He said that the Army base at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, was flying surveillance drones to aid DHS but was not flying them along the border.

McCain said he was aware of the "posse comitatus" limits on the military's cooperation with law enforcement but "this is insane."

Others panel members pleaded with Robinson to get command more involved in stopping the heroin flow that Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, likened to a "public health hurricane."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said "those drugs are going up right up Interstate 35 into rest of country. The epidemic is absolutely heartwrenching."

Sen. Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat, said, "We desperately need you to be the point person in stopping this epidemic." Robinson said "I commit to you that I will do everything to understand and to work with DHS."

Robinson, 56, joined the Air Force in 1982 through the ROTC program at the University of New Hampshire and lists New Hampshire as her home state.

Her Air Force biography states that "she has served in a variety of positions as an air battle manager, including instructor and commander of the Command and Control Operations Division at the Air Force Fighter Weapons School, as well as Chief of Tactics in the 965th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron.

"She has commanded an operations group, a training wing, an air control wing and has deployed as Vice Commander of the 405th Air Expeditionary Wing, leading more than 2,000 Airmen flying B-1 Lancer, KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3 Sentry in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom."

Robinson also has logged more than 900 flight hours as a "senior air battle manager" aboard the E-3B/CAirbone Early Warning and Control (AWACS) aircraft and aboard the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (J-STARS) plane, the biography said.

As commander of Pacific Air Forces, Robinson currently is responsible for 46,000 airmen serving principally in Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Alaska and Guam. If confirmed, Robinson would replace the retiring Adm. William Gortney at NorthCom and Norad. "It would be a tremendous honor to build on his efforts," Robinson said of Gortney.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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