In a historic moment for women in the military, Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, and Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, met in Doral for the first time since they were confirmed for their positions in October last year.
The four-star generals, first and second to lead US commands, met at SouthCom headquarters to sign a charter for a regional “Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Logistics Handbook for the Western Hemisphere.: They were joined June 15 by senior US military leaders and representatives from 14 partner nations including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Jamaica, Ecuador and Panama.
They signed a document that would help them and the partner countries in the region to improve readiness in a much more timely manner that will result in more lives saved during crises such as humanitarian or natural disasters.
Both generals also shared in an exclusive interview with Miami Today how they went up through the ranks, breaking glass ceilings to promote opportunities for upcoming generations. For them, talent has no gender.
“I don’t accept no for an answer; I tried to give the establishment every opportunity to tell me yes, and then just worked really hard,” said Gen. Van Ovost. “It’s not for me, it’s for those behind me. I want them to have a fulfilling career.”
For Gen. Richardson, the opportunities begin all the way back when women are at the beginning of their careers, in positions such as captain or lieutenant. “That’s how you grow somebody,” she said. “The opportunities are there now; everything;s open to women, all positions if you can meet the standard, so we don’t have anything holding us back, except maybe ourselves. And that’s pretty tremendous to today’s military.”
On a panel to discuss the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Program, which is part of a national effort to promote the meaningful contributions of women in the defense and security sectors around the world, Principal Deputy Director for Logistics, Joint Staff, Kristina M. O’Brien said talent has no gender, and every person has different skills that help the commands get their missions done.
“If we have both genders represented, that’s going to really be the force multiplier for having different creativity and innovation [on] how we look at challenges, [get] perspectives, frames of reference, and it can increase productivity,” Ms. O’Brien said.
She recalled that by 2013, the Ukrainian military only had about 13,000 women in service. By 2020 it had 31,000 women, and a year ago, prior to Russia’s invasion, it had about 57,000 women serving their country in the ranks. The nation now has over 900 women in command positions, and whereas in 2013 it had two women officers, this year the country has almost 5,000, she said.
“Imagine today what might be happening in Ukraine and how different [things would be] if they [didn’t] recognize that talent,” Ms. O’Brien said.
The U.S. Transportation Commands support the U.S. Southern Command and the other nine commands the United States has around the globe – 11 in total – with the logistics necessary to fulfill their respective missions. For instance, Transcom provides vessels, aircraft, personnel, and equipment when hurricane season and earthquakes hit the southern region and Southcom is called to help.
“I support Gen. Richardson; I start my planning with understanding what her security objectives are for the region, and then we get the planners together,” Gen. Van Ovost explained. “We have to understand the lines of effort that she has to develop those out, and then how we can best support her in doing so. Then we set up a series of exercises where we try it out, we innovate, and we try to make things better.”
Gen. Richardson describes both commands as having a partnership relationship.
“We rely on being able to be responsive, based on Transcom and the support that they provide,” Gen. Richardson said. “But it’s also the plans that we develop here in terms of how soon are we going to need that? What kind of things are we going to need to move, and what kind of transportation or logistics it requires to get it moved.”