WASHINGTON -- Diversity was on display at the White House today as President Joe Biden introduced Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost as his choice to command U.S. Transportation Command and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson for promotion to general and commander of U.S. Southern Command.
Furthering these examples of diversity, the president was introduced by Vice President Kamala Harris, first African American, first South Asian and first woman elected to a national office. And she was introduced by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the first African American to serve in that capacity.
The two candidates to command combatant commands were introduced on International Women's Day. Biden said they are examples of excellence for all Americans.
"We all need to see and to recognize the barrier breaking accomplishments of these women," he said. "We need the young women just beginning their careers in the military service to see it and know that no door will be closed to them. We need women and men throughout the ranks to see and celebrate women's accomplishments and leadership in the services. We need little girls and boys, both who have grown up dreaming of serving for their country, to know this is what generals in the United States armed forces look like. This is what vice presidents of the United States look like."
The U.S. military is built as a meritocracy — given equal treatment, the best are supposed to rise, and the country needs this, Vice President Harris said in her remarks.
"At this moment, we face global threats to our climate and our health, to our physical security and cybersecurity," she said. "Our capacity to meet this moment is determined both by our diplomatic strength, and by our ability to build a strong, smart and sustainable military force: A force that recruits the most talented; a force that retains the most capable; a force that advances the best of the best."
The vice president pointed to the two officers and said they are "the best of the best."
She noted that Van Ovost is an Air Force Academy graduate who served as one of the early test pilots of the C-17 Globemaster III. She currently serves as the commander of the Air Mobility Command.
Richardson is an Army aviator who flew Huey's and then Black Hawks. Today, she serves as the commanding general of the U.S. Army North.
Austin praised Biden for his decision to nominate these two women.
"The diversity of our nation makes us stronger," he said. "And that diversity in our military ranks makes us better at defending the American people."
Austin said that the president understands leadership.
"You know that leadership doesn't come conveniently packaged," the secretary said. "You know that it comes from lived experience — everyone's lived experience. And today, you are nominating for a combatant command two extraordinary military leaders, whose lived experience encompasses nearly 70 years of uniformed service in peace and in war."
"They have known sacrifice. They have known loss. And they have known victory," he continued. "They have flown and fought for this country across the continents, from the waning days of the Cold War, right up to the modern days of wars that we still wage."
Biden said more work, more change must happen. He specifically tasked all military personnel to fight against sexual assault.
"Sexual assault is abhorrent and wrong at any time, but in our military, so much of unit cohesion is built on trusting your fellow service members to have your back, it is nothing less than a threat to our national security," the president said.
He noted that Austin's first memo as secretary was a directive to take on sexual assault in the military and establishing an independent review commission on sexual assault.
"This is going to be an all hands on deck effort under my administration to end the scourge of sexual assault in the military," Biden said. "We're going to be focused on that from the very top. I know that we can do it. The U.S. military has defeated American enemies on land and air and sea, and this is not beyond us."