For the first time in American history, a woman is leading the largest command in the United States Army. Lieutenant General Laura Richardson took command of the largest command in mid-October. While she officially leads on an interim basis, the significance of her ascent is not lost on many of us. While women’s fitness for combat was being debated, Lt. Gen. Richardson was busy climbing the Army ranks and serving overseas in two wars. This will be the second glass ceiling Lt. Gen. Richardson has shattered; the first occurred in 2012 when she became the first female deputy commanding general for the 1st Cavalry Division, known as “America’s First Team.” Now, she leads the command of 776,000 soldiers and 96,000 civilians stationed in America and abroad.
By her biography, it appears Lt. Gen. Richardson has been ambitious her entire life. She obtained her pilot’s license at age 16, and began her military career in 1986. She has a master’s degree, and she flew Black Hawk helicopters. While Affirmative Action legislation may have opened a door to all women in the military, Lt. Gen. Richardson did not rely upon government assistance to “level the gender playing field.” It appears that her ambition, leadership skills, and quite a bit of sheer grit elevated her career.
Since 1782, women have found a way to serve in the Army – even when the Army didn’t allow them. Deborah Sampson had such a yearning to serve, she disguised herself as a man in order to serve in General Washington’s Army. Ms. Sampson’s zeal to serve – even if officially denied by the men of Congress at the time – was followed by Elizabeth Newcom, during the Mexican War in 1846. Women in disguise as men served in every war following until 1917, when women were finally acknowledged and allowed to join the military. Women are relentless; when told “no,” we find a way to accomplish what we set our minds to. Few strong women I know have ever made their way into leadership positions without being told “no” several times along the way. It is, strangely, a right of passage every ambitious woman endures.
I hope Lt. Gen. Richardson’s interim position becomes permanent. We need more highly qualified and ambitious women in leadership positions in order to inspire legions of young girls to continue to seek more for themselves, their communities and their country. A career in public service, and in the toughest of all public service, is admirable. Lt. Gen. Richardson has taken devotion to country and desire to serve to the next level, and to the benefit of all women. Repetitious shattering of glass ceilings may not have been Lt. Gen. Richardson’s goal, but it will certainly be her legacy.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.