The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson as the next commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), making her the second woman in U.S. history to lead a combatant command, reports military.com. Also of note, Richardson — who is set to receive a fourth star — will become the second female four-star general in the Army's history.
As commander of SOUTHCOM, Richardson will oversee U.S. military operations across South and Central America as well as in the Caribbean. The region comes with no shortage of challenges. According to military.com, SOUTHCOM leaders have historically been charged with handling complex issues such as drug trafficking and narcoterrorism in the region; providing humanitarian and disaster relief; and overseeing Guantanamo Bay's controversial detention facility.
The job is made more complicated, notes military.com, given that Richardson will be serving a region that has been disproportionately hurt by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Not to mention that "she will also have to work to ensure the United States retains its long-held influence throughout the vast majority of the region, where Russia and China in recent years have increased efforts to work with and influence nations in the Western Hemisphere," writes military.com. Richardson spoke to those issues during her confirmation hearing last week.
"We must hasten to pick up the pieces left by the pandemic and transform our relationships to meet 21st century security challenges," she said. "Put simply, winning together with our allies and partners matters. Whether [it is working] against [the coronavirus], transnational criminal organizations, the predatory actions of China, the malign influence of Russia, or natural disasters, there's nothing we cannot overcome or achieve through an integrated response with our interagency allies and partners."
A Colorado native, Richardson was commissioned as an aviation officer in 1986. She commanded a 101st Airborne Division aviation battalion in Iraq and also served in Afghanistan. She previously served as deputy commanding general of the United States Army Forces Command before taking command of U.S. Army North.