Air Force General Lori Robinson Set To Become The Highest Ranking Woman In US Military History

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The US military made history in 2015 when the Pentagon announced it would open up all combat roles for women. This came on the heels of two women making history by becoming the first females to graduate from the elite Army Rangers training course. The US follows other countries such as the UK and Australia who have made similar moves in the past few years.

It seems the military is not content to pay lip service in this area. For the first time in US military history, a woman is to be named as head of one of combatant commands. In total the Department of Defense has 6 combatant commanders who oversee military operations in different regions around the world.

Air Force General Lori Robinson has been nominated by the Obama administration to lead all military forces in North America, and if she is confirmed by the Senate, she will officially become the highest ranking women in the history of the military.

General Robinson would become the head of Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, which is responsible for defending the U.S. homeland and surrounding region. It also oversees the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

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Her Air Force career began in 1982, and according to Task & Purpose, her nomination to this high-ranking post should come as no surprise for anyone who has been tracking her career. Between June 2012 and October 2014 she rose from two-star serving as deputy commander, US Air Forces Central Command, to four-star serving as commander, Pacific Air Forces, an assignment that made her the first female four-star to command combat forces.

General Robinson isn’t the first woman to reach the rank of four-star. That honor goes to Vice Admiral Michelle Howard who became the first four-star women in the United States Navy in 2014. Fun fact about Adm. Howard: less than a week into her new job as the head of a Navy counter-piracy force in 2009, she found out the cargo ship Maersk Alabama had been kidnapped by Somali pirates. She was the officer in charge of negotiating with the pirates who had kidnapped the ship’s captain in a lifeboat. This story was made famous in the Hollywood film ‘Captain Phillips’ starring Tom Hanks. NBD…

However, General Robinson’s appointment would take things up a notch for women in the military, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was vocal about his support for her.

“General Robinson, it just so happens, would also be the first ever female combatant commander. That shows yet another thing, which is that we have, coming along now, a lot of female officers who are exceptionally strong. And Lori certainly fits into that category,” he told the media at an event hosted by Politico.

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Currently, women only make up 15% of the military, but with the availability of all combat roles and the visibility of women in such high-ranking positions, it could go a long way to increasing that number. The New York Times reports only  a little more than 6% of generals and admirals are women and 17% of officers are women. Out of 38 four-star generals and admirals, there are 3 women, one of them being Lori Robinson.

It definitely helps that these gender equal decisions are being made under a president who supports equal opportunities for women and has proved it throughout his 2 terms, and a Defense Secretary keenly aware of the need to recruit and engage more women in the military.

He enlisted the help of ‘Lean In’ author Sheryl Sandberg to talk to military leaders about the importance of having gender diversity in key decision-making roles, and in January Secretary Carter announced a new family leave package to become a more family-friendly institution that caters to both women and men. All branches of military now offer 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave (which doubled the amount from when he first became Secretary), and military locations with employee 50 women or more must install breast-feeding rooms for mothers. The Navy actually offers 18 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. It’s not perfect, but it’s at the very least a step in the right direction, as the DOD will also subsidize child care.

It’s important to have female role models in all industries who have proven their success comes from merit. We hope the Senate will not delay in confirming General Lori Robinson to this history-making position in the US Military.

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