President Biden has nominated two leading female generals, whose promotions were reportedly held up under the Trump administration because they are women, to run two of the military's most vital combatant commands.
Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost has been nominated to head U.S. Transportation Command, and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson to head U.S. Southern command and to receive her fourth star, the Pentagon announced Saturday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also announced that Biden had nominated Navy Adm. John Aquilino to head U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Navy Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo has also been nominated to command U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and to receive his fourth star.
The New York Times reported in February that top Pentagon leaders last fall took the unprecedented step of delaying Van Ovost and Richardson's nominations for months, over fears that the Trump administration would pass them over and choose other candidates for those commands.
Although Van Ovost and Richardson are highly regarded and the Pentagon's top leadership agreed they were the best general officers for those jobs, the Times reported, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley "feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil once their nominations reached the White House."
In an interview with the Times, Esper confirmed their nominations were delayed out of fear of the Trump administration's reaction.
"They were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and I didn't want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought [the Defense Department] was playing politics," Esper told the Times. "This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing."
Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who succeeded Esper after Trump abruptly fired him shortly after the election, disputed claims that the delays were because Van Ovost and Richardson are women. Miller told the Times that the delay was instead because the Senate probably would not have had enough time to consider their nominations before the end of the year.
"It was about timing considerations, not that they were women," Miller said, according to the Times' reporting.
If they are confirmed by the Senate, Van Ovost and Richardson would become the highest-ranking female officers currently serving in the U.S. military.
Only one other woman has ever been in command of a COCOM -- now-retired Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, who became head of U.S. Northern Command in 2016.
Van Ovost is now the only female four-star general in the military, and just the fifth in Air Force history. She became head of Air Mobility Command -- which, like TRANSCOM, is housed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois -- in August 2020, and is an Air Force Academy graduate.
She has also served as a test pilot; commanded a refueling squadron, a training wing and an airlift wing; headed the C-17 Globemaster III program at the Pentagon, and served as vice director of the joint staff.
TRANSCOM manages delivery of supplies and logistics coordination for U.S. troops moving around the globe.
If Richardson is confirmed, she will be the second female four-star in Army history. The first, Gen. Ann Dunwoody, achieved that rank in 2008.
-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.