AARP Eye Center
In their first joint interview, the top-ranking women from each branch of the U.S. military shared how they overcame adversity to reach the highest levels of the armed forces.
Norah O’Donnell, anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News, brought the leaders together for the first time. “Each of them told similar stories: that they just put their head down, they worked even harder and sought the support of colleagues who told them, ‘You absolutely do belong here, and I’m going to support you,’ ” said O’Donnell, who hosts the online streaming series Person to Person with Norah O'Donnell.
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Trailblazers in service
The four women are:
- Adm. Linda Fagan, Coast Guard commandant
- Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of U.S. Transportation Command (Air Force)
- Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (Army)
- Adm. Lisa Franchetti, vice chief of Naval Operations (Navy)
Only 10 women have held the highest rank in their military branches. Women were prevented from serving full-time in the military until the passing of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948, which initially limited their participation to 2 percent of all personnel. Restrictions remained on women’s military service for more than 60 years until 2015, when the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in combat.
“There were so many women who were barred from serving in senior positions because of the law, a law that discriminates,” O’Donnell said. “The reason that there are so few women in leadership in the military is because leadership roles in the military require combat experience.”
O’Donnell described the women as possessing a “quiet persistence and a dedication to selfless sacrifice” due to the 30-plus years they spent moving up the ranks.
“The opportunity was created by law changes and otherwise for us to be here as a four-star,” Fagan said during the interview. “Yes, there’s been some difficult people along the way, but they’re not sitting here in these chairs right now.”
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