SAN ANTONIO (AP) — As Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson took command of U.S. Army North on Monday morning before hundreds of dignitaries, she took stock of a life unbarred by barriers.
The kind of barriers that women have faced.
The San Antonio Express-News reported she was a champion swimmer at 8, private aviator at 15, All-American swimmer in college and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in 2003, the first year of the Iraq War. She grew up competitive, an athlete whose mom and dad literally let her spread her wings.
“I’m the daughter of great parents who always told me I could do anything and never put the typical gender norms on me,” she told the crowd. “In fact, as the oldest of four kids, I think my dad thought I was his son for the first 10 years on earth.”
Richardson, 55, spoke briefly after taking command from Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who is retiring after three years there. After a 15-round cannon salute, and with the 323rd Army Band performing songs from the divisions in which he served over a 37-year career, Buchanan and Richardson mounted horses and rode slowly, “trooping the line” of 200 soldiers standing at attention on Staff Post Field near the historic Quadrangle at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where she’ll work.
They then stood before their boss, Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, as Richardson accepted Army North’s flag to symbolize the transfer of command. O’Shaughnessy leads U.S. Northern Command created in 2002 to run the Pentagon homeland defense efforts and coordinate support of civil authorities.
Richardson, already the Army’s first female combat arms general officer, became its first woman to command the Army component of a larger, multiservice unit.
Standing in a crowd that included four former Army North commanders — all retired three-star generals — was Richardson’s husband, Lt. Gen. James “Jim” Richardson. Called “dual military” couples, they’re somewhat common at lower ranks across the armed services, but the Richardsons are the only married three-star generals in the Army.
It’s a difficult lifestyle. Dual military families often are separated as they work at installations around the United States and overseas. In her brief address to a crowd of more than 500 sitting in bleachers and under tents, Laura Richardson made a point of thanking her family for having her back over the years.
“I am here today because of my family and the great soldiers I have had the honor to serve with. I want to thank my husband, Jim, and my daughter, Lauren, for their support, encouragement and patience over my 32 years in the Army. Without that support we would not have been able to sustain a dual military family for 31 years, and I am very grateful, and I love you,” she said.
Being a woman in a male-dominated Army hasn’t been difficult, Richardson said. It was important to be treated “just like anybody else,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had folks that were easier or harder on me.”