Army lieutenant general receives fourth star and becomes second female combat commander in history

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Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson was confirmed by the Senate in a unanimous vote Wednesday to become the next commander of United States Southern Command, making her the second woman in history to lead a combat command.

Richardson, who now heads US Army North, will receive a fourth star before assuming command of SOUTHCOM, which oversees US military operations in South and Central America and the Caribbean. She will become the second four-star female general in military history.

Richardson will replace outgoing SOUTHCOM chief, Navy Admiral Craig Faller, who has led the Fighters Command headquartered just outside Miami since November 2018. The Department of Defense has yet to make a decision. date for the change of command, a SOUTHCOM spokesperson said on Thursday.

SOUTHCOM leaders have traditionally faced challenges in the region such as drug trafficking, narcoterrorism, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, and overseeing the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. . Richardson will also inherit responsibility for operations in a part of the globe devastated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It will also need to ensure that the United States retains its long-standing influence in the vast majority of the region, where Russia and China have stepped up efforts in recent years to work with Western Hemisphere nations and countries. influence.

Richardson told senators last week during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill that his priorities included expanding training exercises and other security cooperation operations with partner countries in the region and the increased opportunities for partner countries in the region to send their troops to US military training and education programs. .

“We must hurry to pick up the pieces left by the pandemic and transform our relationships to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. Simply put, winning with our allies and partners is important,” Richardson told Senators. “Whether [it is working] versus [the coronavirus], transnational criminal organizations, predatory actions by China, malicious influence from Russia or natural disasters, there is nothing we cannot overcome or achieve through an integrated response with our allies and interagency partners. “

Richardson was commissioned into the military as a ranger officer in 1986 and flew UH-60 Black Hawks, according to his official biography. She commanded an aviation battalion of the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and also served in Afghanistan.

She assumed command of US Army North at Joint Base San Antonio in July 2019 after serving as Deputy Commander of US Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Richardson may soon be followed by the third woman to lead a combat command. President Joe Biden has appointed Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost to lead the US Transportation Command. The Senate has yet to formally consider his appointment.

Air Force General Lori Robinson was the first woman to lead a combat command. She led US Northern Command from 2016 until her retirement in 2018.

Biden appointed Richardson and Van Ovost to these high-level positions in April, after they were recommended by top Pentagon officials during President Donald Trump’s administration. The New York Times reported in February that former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, slowly pushed back their recommendations of the two women for these jobs until after the November 2020 elections, fearing the White House. might reject their selections because of their gender.

Esper, who was fired shortly after Trump’s election defeat, told The Times he and Milley agreed that Richardson and Van Ovost were the best and most qualified choices for the positions. He confirmed that their recommendations were delayed until Biden was elected.

“They were chosen because they were the best officers for the positions, and I didn’t want their promotions to derail because someone in Trump’s White House saw that I recommended them or thought [the Defense Department] was in politics, ”Esper told The New York Times in February. ” This was not the case. They were the most qualified. We were doing the right thing. “

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