Army General Laura Richardson flew helicopters in Iraq and commanded an assault helicopter battalion. He now heads the US Southern Command.
“Where else in the military can you be a helicopter pilot, work in the White House, work in the United States Capitol, work in the Pentagon and lead American boys and girls in war,” Richardson told CBS News.
Of the hundreds of four-star generals or admirals in US history, only 10 are women.
Richardson is one of four women who spoke exclusively to CBS News this week about the challenges they faced to achieve what they did.
“And there are four of us, right?” Dr. Richardson. “A first. And so, very soon, there will be no more firsts.”
Chief Commandant of the Coast Guard. Linda Fagan is the first female service chief in US history and the only woman to be a de facto member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The journey we’re all on has taken steady, constant effort, effort,” Fagan told CBS News. “Yes, there were some tough guys along the way, but, you know, they’re not sitting in this chair now.”
Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Oost heads the U.S. Transportation Command. As a teenager, he had his pilot’s license before his driver’s license. But when she enlisted, she was not allowed to fly fighter jets because she was a woman.
“One of the senior leaders at that school said there was no reason for women to be here,” Ovast said. “And you don’t belong here. I … talked to fellow wingmen. They were helping me so that I could be sharp, so that I could fly with that person again, I could demonstrate that I had every right to be there.”
Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the Navy’s number two officer, once commanded a carrier strike group. Although on her first deployment, her commanding officer told her she wasn’t welcome there, a situation each of these women faced.
“He made it very clear to me that he didn’t think we should have women on board and that he was going to make sure I didn’t succeed,” Franchetti said.
That disparity was bridged by resolution.
“I just worked hard,” Franchetti said. “And, you know, I was going to make sure that what he wanted to do didn’t happen.”
The four women admit, however, that there is still a long way to go.
“Who’s on the bench, and who are we in the pipeline, not only at our colonel level, but to majors and captains and preparing them to fill our seats,” Richardson said.