First woman leads SOUTHCOM

With her swearing-in on October 29, Army General Laura Richardson became the first woman to lead the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and only the third woman to lead one of the U.S. military’s 11 unified combatant commands.

As commander, Richardson oversees U.S. military operations across South and Central America, in addition to the Caribbean.

“We must hasten to pick up the pieces left by the pandemic and transform our relationships to meet 21st century security challenges,” she said during her Senate confirmation hearing over the summer. “Put simply, winning together with our allies and partners matters.”

Woman wearing military uniform walking in front of three men (Defense Dept./Lisa Ferdinando)
From left: Outgoing commander of U.S. Southern Command Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark A. Milley and the incoming commander of SOUTHCOM Army General Laura J. Richardson arrive at the change-of-command ceremony October 29 in Doral, Florida. (Defense Dept./Lisa Ferdinando)

Richardson has diverse experience, from leading smaller companies to larger theater Army battalions during her more than 30 years in the Army. Notably, she commanded an assault helicopter battalion in Iraq from 2003–2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Richardson also served as military aide to the vice president at the White House, the Army’s legislative liaison to Congress at the U.S. Capitol, and an Army campaign planner at the Pentagon.

Richardson steers the U.S. presence in Latin America and the Caribbean to:

  • Provide humanitarian and disaster relief.
  • Stop narcoterrorism and drug trafficking.
  • Help nations recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will draw upon the strength in our neighborhood from partners who share our values of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and gender equality,” she said on October 29 at the ceremony to accept her post.