Pentagon Delayed Promoting 2 Female Generals for Fear of Trump Reaction: Report

Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost (and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson.
Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost (left) and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson (right). (U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army photos)

The Pentagon delayed recommendations for two female generals to take over top-tier commands last fall for fear the Trump administration would overturn the decision, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, advised against a recommendation to nominate Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, currently head of Air Mobility Command, to take over U.S. Transportation Command; and another for Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, of U.S. Army North, to lead U.S. Southern Command, for fear the Trump White House would replace them with other candidates, the Times said.

However, the Biden administration is likely to advance the women into the roles, with formal nominations expected in coming weeks, the newspaper reported.

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If confirmed by the Senate, Van Ovost and Richardson would be the highest-ranking female leaders overseeing two of the nation's 11 combatant commands, which are responsible for coordinating military operations particular to their corresponding mission.

TRANSCOM manages delivery of supplies and logistics coordination for U.S. troops moving around the globe, while SOUTHCOM coordinates U.S. military involvement and cooperation with partners in Latin America.

Van Ovost is the Pentagon's only current female four-star general, and just the fifth in the Air Force's 73-year history. She's been a test pilot; commander of a refueling squadron, a training wing and an airlift wing; and the head of the C-17 Globemaster III program at the Pentagon. She has served as the vice director of the Joint Staff, among many other postings following her graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1988. She became the head of Air Mobility Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois -- which also houses TRANSCOM -- in August 2020.

Richardson took the helm of U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 2019. According to the San Antonio Express-News, she is one of the Army's first female combat arms generals and became the first woman "to command the Army component of a larger, multiservice unit" that year.

She is a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in 2003 during the Iraq War, the Express-News said. The Army has not had a female four-star general since Gen. Ann Dunwoody, who was the first woman in U.S. history to achieve the rank in 2008.

A spokesperson for Van Ovost at Air Mobility Command declined to comment on The New York Times article. An Army spokesperson could not immediately provide additional information regarding Richardson's potential nomination.

Esper, who spoke with The New York Times, said he was hesitant to put forth their names.

"I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House
saw that I recommended them or thought D.O.D. was playing politics," he said.

Only one woman has led a combatant command in U.S. history.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama tapped Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson to lead U.S. Northern Command, a role she served in for two years. In 2018, she was profiled in Time Magazine.

"I've been privileged to be the first at many things. I'm a general, a commander, an airman," Robinson told the magazine. "And I happen to be a woman.

"When I put the fact of being a woman as more important than the institution, then I've done a disservice to the institution. But I realize I'm a role model," she said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct a description of Richardson.

-- Matthew Cox contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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