Biden picks female US generals ‘held back over Trump’ for top military posts

The nominations are for only the second and third women to lead a combatant command in the US military

U.S. President Joe Biden walks into the East Room beside U.S. Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost and U.S. Army Lieutenant General Laura J. Richardson before delivering remarks on International Women's Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US President Joe Biden marked International Women’s Day by nominating the second and third women to lead a combatant command in the US military and by creating a gender policy council within the White House.

US Air Force Gen Jacqueline Van Ovost, the first woman to reach the rank of four-star general, was nominated to head Transportation Command.

Three-star US Army Lt Gen Laura Richardson was nominated to lead Southern Command, which covers Central and Latin America. She will also receive her fourth star.

If the Senate confirms their nominations, then Gen Van Ovost and Lt Gen Richardson will follow Lori Robinson, the first woman to lead a military command. She led Northern Command before retiring in 2018.

"Each of these women have led careers demonstrating incomparable skill, integrity and duty to country," Mr Biden said, while presenting the two generals at the White House.

"Today is International Women's Day, and we all need to see and to recognise the barrier-breaking accomplishments of these women."

"We need little girls and boys both who have grown up dreaming of serving for their country to know this is what generals in the United States armed forces look like," Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden called for improving gender equality in the military and said he is committed to ending sexual assault in the armed forces.

The nominations come after it was reported that Mark Esper, defence secretary under former president Donald Trump, and Gen Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delayed attempting these promotions, in order to protect the women's careers.

Mr Esper and Gen Milley viewed the two as deserving of commands but worried that only white men would advance into those positions under Mr Trump, according to a report in the New York Times.

The US military has 11 commands, all led by four-star generals.

As head of Southern Command in Florida, Lt Gen Richardson will be responsible for US military forces and operations in Central America, South America and much of the Caribbean. She’s currently commanding general of US Army North.

As head of Transportation Command, Gen Van Ovost will handle the military's vast transportation operations globally. She's currently the commander of the Air Mobility Command.

Mr Biden’s announcement on the military picks came on the same day he created a gender policy council within the White House.

The council, created by an executive order, will include a staff of four – three of whom will hold the title of special assistant to the president, according to a senior administration official.

The council’s mandate is to work across the federal government’s domestic and foreign policy to fight discrimination and bias, boost economic security, increase access to health care and advance general equality through diplomacy, trade and defence.

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