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Military Offers Women Unique Challenges and Opportunities, Generals Say

U.S. Transportation Command commander Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and U.S. Southern Command commander Army Gen. Laura Richardson spoke June 15 about their experiences in the military as women leaders during an interview with defense.gov and the newspaper "Miami Today." 

Van Ovost has served in the Air Force since 1988, following graduation from the Air Force Academy. 

A female service member shoots a military weapon.
Target Practice
Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Air Mobility Command commander, shoots an M4 carbine at the new Combat Arms Training and Maintenance facility Feb. 2, 2021, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Alexi Bosarge
VIRIN: 210202-F-AD239-0267C

"I’ve benefited from the opportunities in the Air Force to get to where I am. Those opportunities didn't come without their challenges. A career in the military is not an easy walk. There's a lot of sacrifices that every person makes but the opportunities are worth it," she said. 

Mentors, both male and female, have given her sage advice, she said, adding that she's grateful to all of them. 

Regarding challenges women and men face in the military, she said: "If I'm not uncomfortable, I'm not learning." 

Just don't even think of giving up, she added. 

When Van Ovost entered the Air Force, combat jobs, including fighter pilot jobs, were closed to women. "But I wanted to fly fighters. And I knew that women had the talent to fly fighters."

However, test pilot training was open to women so in 1994, she went to the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. 

A military change of command is shown.
New Commander
Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons passes the command guidon to Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost as she takes over as new commander of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Oct. 15, 2021.
Photo By: U.S. Transportation Command Tara Stetler
VIRIN: 211015-F-VX890-0301A

In later tours of duty, Van Ovost commanded a number of units from squadron to wing level. 

In reflecting on her career and legacy, she said she wants women and men to have fulfilling careers and to be passionate and have the talent for what they do. 

Richardson has commanded troops from the company to theater level.  

For example, she commanded an Assault Helicopter Battalion in combat in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. 

A female military leader speaks at a ceremony.
Richardson Remarks
The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Army Gen. Laura Richardson, gives the keynote address during the Metropolitan State University of Denver's Fall Commencement ceremony in Denver, Colo., Dec. 17, 2021.
Photo By: Courtesy MSU Denver/Alyson McClaran
VIRIN: 211217-D-BS728-520C

"There's so many things that if I had not been in the military, I would have never experienced," she said, mentioning physical and mental challenges such as attending Airborne School where she earned her Parachutist Badge. 

Public speaking was another challenge to take on, she said, noting that as a general, you are expected to speak in front of the press or public, regarding your command and responsibilities. 

"The military has never failed to challenge me in terms of making me better and making me think, how am I going to do this? Am I qualified to do this? Am I capable of doing this? How am I going to do all of this?" she said, adding that you just go ahead and do it to the best of your ability. 

As part of her current duties, Richardson travels frequently throughout her area of responsibility meeting with partner leaders, many of whom are women. 

A man and woman shake hands.
Richardson Handshake
Army Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command, meets with Colombian Minister of Defense Diego Molano to discuss the U.S.-Colombia security partnership. The meeting was in Colombia Nov. 17, 2021.
Photo By: Courtesy U.S. Embassy Colombia
VIRIN: 211117-A-BS728-002A

For example, she has met with Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados; Xiomara Castro, president of Honduras; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, vice president of Argentina; and, Erika Mouynes, Panama minister of foreign affairs. 

Richardson also attends events in partner countries in the region centering on issues affecting women, peace and security and promotes offering women opportunities in the nations' armed forces, including in combat related roles. 

It is everyone's job as junior to senior leaders to help their people grow and to challenge them to achieve great things, she said. 

All jobs in the military are now open to women if they meet the standards, she noted.  

"We don't have anything holding us back except maybe ourselves. And so that's pretty tremendous to today's military," she said. 

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