Laura Jane Strickland, was the first child born to Darwin Jan and Suzanne Strickland on December 11th, 1963, in Kansas City, Missouri. Darwin (he goes by Jan) was a medical student, and Suzanne was a teacher helping put her husband through Medical school. Jan graduated in 1965 as a DO, and moved the family to Northglenn, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, and set up a family practice. Laura’s sister Elaine was born in July 1967, and another sister, Janis, in October 1970. Finally a brother, Darwin, was born in July 1974.
Jan and Suzanne Strickland were concerned with keeping their children away from drugs and other trouble in the 1970’s and 80’s. They put the four kids on a strict physical program. Northglenn is a middle class suburb north of Denver. At their home, the Strickland’s built an indoor, two-lane pool off the family room, they installed a rubber track for sprints in the back yard and turned their basement into a gym with a treadmill for everyone (they had six). All four kids rose at 5:30 a.m. daily, for laps in the pool before school. Brother Darwin qualified for Olympic trials and Laura was an All American swimmer. There were daily family runs 365 days a year, even before presents could be opened on Christmas morning. All won athletic awards and earned scholarships. Sister Janis said that all four thrived on the discipline and daily workouts, a practice that has served them well. All four would take Army ROTC, only Elaine would drop out because of asthma. The other three would serve as officers in the Army. The Strickland’s believe that it was Laura who set the example that led to their children’s interest in the military.
Laura attended Elementary, Middle, and High School in Northglenn. She was very interested in the medical field, because of her doctor father, but also became fascinated with flying. At 15, while a junior in high school, she started taking flying lessons and earned her private pilot licenses at 17. She entered Regis College in Denver as a Pre-med student and drove an hour each way every Thursday to attend Air Force ROTC classes. She was tired of the two hour commute to the Air Force ROTC, so in her sophomore year she switched to Army ROTC at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She said that the Army ROTC program seemed more suited to her than the Air Force program. For her senior year, she switched her classes to Metropolitan State, went on to summer school and graduated in August 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.
Upon graduation, Laura was commissioned, from the Army ROTC program, as a Second Lieutenant (2LT) in the U.S. Army. She was branched “Aviation”. Her private pilot’s license, with five years flying experience had to be the Army’s deciding factor in her branch assignment. In September 1986, 2LT Laura Strickland reported to Fort Rucker, Alabama for the Aviation Officer Basic Course. She graduated from the Officer Basic Course in December 1986, and started basic flight school. Between classes, in a hallway she met a tall good looking Captain named Jim Richardson, who was there attending the Captain’s Aviation Career Course. Jim says that he knew, that day, that he had met the girl he was going to marry. Laura says it was maybe a month before she called her mother and told her that she thought she had met the man she was going to marry.
James Richardson was born and grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He once described himself as growing up as a good ole surfer boy, with the military never entering his mind. He graduated from high school in 1978 and went on to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, 15 miles from Myrtle Beach. It was there he became fascinated with helicopters. Coastal Carolina didn’t have an ROTC program and University of South Carolina (USC) was just starting ROTC, but by that time Jim had two years of college under his belt and didn’t qualify for the Senior ROTC program. He needed basic training. Jim’s father, James, a former Marine, was an officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard and helped him sign up for the guard. He took basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I was a Drill Sergeant at Fort Jackson during that time, but I didn’t find James Richardson in the class books I have, but I seem to remember a tall guy named Richardson, who was a trainee truck driver. I do know that the summer he went through basic, 1980, was one of the hottest on record. We watered down the trainees with garden hoses, during training, in an attempt to prevent heat casualties. James Richardson graduated from USC in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (both have the same BA degree), and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in Armor. He attended the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then went to flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Aviation was created as a separate Branch in the Army in late 1983, and officer classes started in 1984. Up until that time, officer pilots came from other branches (usually Infantry or Armor), they attended their branch schools and were “detailed” to flight status. Captain James Richardson was back at Fort Rucker attending the Aviation Advanced Course when he and Laura met.
During flight school, students’ skills, abilities, and scores are evaluated to determine the type of aircraft on which they will receive specific training. Laura was selected to fly the UH-60 Blackhawk. At that time women weren’t allowed to fly “attack” helicopters. James flew the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.
After receiving notification that Laura’s first assignment would be Korea, James and Laura married November 25th 1987, at Fort Rucker. In December 1987 Laura graduated and proceeded to her first assignment in Korea. She was assigned as a Platoon Leader in the 128th Assault Helicopter Company. She had five Blackhawks in her platoon hauling combat troops. Laura was promoted to First Lieutenant (1LT) in March 1988. In May 1988, James was assigned to Korea in the 4th Attack Helicopter Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, 17th Aviation Brigade, and Laura was reassigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment. Their only child, daughter Lauren, was born in the spring of 1989. While in Company C, Laura served as Administrative Officer, Company Executive Officer, and Platoon Leader. From July 1989 until April 1990, 1LT Laura Richardson was the Assistant S4 Officer (Logistics) in the 17th Aviation Brigade Headquarters. From April to September 1990, Laura was the S1 (Personnel) officer, while Captain James was the S3 (Operations) officer of the 4th Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment. In September 1990, Laura was given command of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion. Laura was promoted to Captain March 1st, 1991, and the Richardson’s all came back to the states in September 1991. In later years, Jim told the story that Laura’s unit in Korea had a yearly Iron Man Contest, and after 5-ft. 4-in. Laura beat dozens of men to win the contest, the event was renamed the Iron Person Contest.
They were assigned to Fort Rucker, where Laura attended the Career Captain’s Aviation Officer Advanced Course, and James attended other advanced aviation courses. When Laura completed the course in March 1992, they were assigned to Fort Hood, Texas.
They were at Fort Hood for three years. Laura’s initial assignment, from April to July 1992 was as the Chief, Health and Fitness Section in the G1 section of the Headquarters of III Corps, then she was given command of B Company, 1st Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, which was what the Army calls a “Command Aviation Company”. It flies the Generals, Colonels and VIP’s. She ended her time there as the S1 (Personnel) Officer of the 6th Cavalry Brigade. James was the S3 (Operations) officer of the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry, promoted to Major, then the Executive Officer of the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry. From Fort Hood, they moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Like any Army wife, before the move, Laura was always on the phone to friends at the next duty station inquiring about places to live, day care facilities, and possible baby sitters.
James attended the US Army Command and General Staff College, while Laura was assigned as an Aviation Observer Trainer/Assistant Operations Officer in the Battle Command Training Program at the US Army Combined Arms Center. She helped train the Army National Guard Enhanced Brigades, which were being aligned with active Army divisions. In the spring of 1996 Laura was selected for promotion to Major, so the following year she attended the Command and General Staff College, while James attended the School of Advanced Military Studies, which designated him as a strategic planner. Laura was promoted to Major March 1st, 1997, and in June 1997 they moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
At Fort Campbell Laura was assigned as the S3 (Operations) Officer of the 9th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, while James became the S3 of the 159th Aviation Brigade. Laura later became the Executive Officer of the 9th Battalion, while James moved up to be the Plans Officer in the G3 (Operations) section of division headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division.
A normal tour for officers is three years, at least a minimum of two years, at one location. Jim, Laura, and Lauren were standing at the airport baggage claim for a long planned trip to Disney World when Laura got a call summoning her to Washington, D.C. to be interviewed by Vice President Al Gore. Laura was pulled out four months early, in February 1999, to be one of two military aides to the Vice President of the United States. Not only did she carry the nuclear launch codes, but being the senior military person closest to the VP, who is required to fly on military aircraft, she became the coordinator of all military aircraft and crews during VP Gore’s campaign for president. After the election, she was an aide to VP Chaney for about a month. She and her Navy counterpart were replaced by five military aides, one from each of the services. James and Lauren moved to Washington about four months later. James worked in the G3 Section (Operations and Training) of Army Headquarters in the Pentagon.
In March 2001 they moved back to Fort Campbell to the 101st Airborne Division. Laura was assigned as the Deputy G3 of the 101st Airborne Division. Not only was she the first female to hold that position, she was the first aviator (non-infantryman) to be in that job. James had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC), and a board at Army Headquarters selected him for command. James took command of the 3rd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, which was the Apache attack helicopters. Laura was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) on June 1st 2001. Jim remembers the frustration he felt in March 2002 when he walked into the Emergency Operations Center at Fort Campbell and listened in on a battle taking place at that moment on the other side of the world. The early stages of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. The 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division had walked into a hornet’s nest and clearly did not have the firepower they needed. By the end of the day the 101st Airborne Division Commander had ordered LTC James Richardson to pack up his battalion with their aircraft and head to Afghanistan. Ninety-six hours later, all his aircraft had been taken apart, loaded onto cargo planes and shipped out. Upon arriving, LTC James Richardson, by default, became the Air Commander for Operation Anaconda. The added firepower quickly turned the tide of battle. “The Al-Qaeda were used to seeing Apaches one or two at a time”, Jim recalled. “Now they were facing an entire battalion of 24 aircraft. There was no place they could hide or regroup.” The fighting was vicious. One of the battalion’s Apaches was shot down, both pilots were too badly injured to get out, and the helicopter could explode. Unable to land nearby, Jim had his co-pilot/gunner hover his aircraft over the crash site. Jim jumped to the ground, injuring his back but not badly enough to prevent him from pulling both pilots out and staying with them until a medical evacuation team arrived.
Laura was selected for command, and in July 2002 took command of the 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, which was the UH-60 Blackhawks
LTC Jim Richardson and his battalion of Apaches returned to Fort Campbell in August 2002.
In February and March 2003 the 101st Airborne Division, commanded by Major General David Petraus, deployed to Kuwait, including both Jim and Laura’s battalions, to prepare for the invasion of Iraq. Only about 1 in 20 officers, who start out as lieutenants, gets a battalion command, and never before had husband and wife each commanded battalions in the same unit. Not only were they commanding battalions, they were going into combat, commanding those battalions. Jim’s Apaches provided overhead cover for the ground troops and the Blackhawk helicopters delivering them. Laura’s battalion of 30 Blackhawk helicopters and 320 soldiers shuttled combat troops into battle, delivered artillery pieces, heavy equipment, supplies and ammunition. LTC Laura Richardson was not only a command pilot, but as Battalion Commander was also responsible for maintenance, training new pilots, maintenance of wheeled vehicles, feeding the troops and supplying the troops. Any General Officer who has commanded units at every level in the Army will tell you that battalion command is the pinnacle of command, full of exhilaration, frustration, stress, and satisfaction. A company commander has a company, and a brigade commander has battalion commanders to run the battalions. I have heard battalion command described as training an octopus to keep its eight legs all going the same direction. Laura said that she had learned something about herself when she worked in the White House. She said that it was her first assignment that involved working with other women. She said; ”I got used to dealing with men all the time, and it made me very direct and even abrupt. I found that I can be just as effective without having to change how I truly am.” A Free Republic article from Iraq in 2003 reported that her troops, among themselves, called her Mom and figured out that the way to improve her mode was to ply her with Skittles. Only about 10% of the MRE’s (meals ready to eat) had Skittles (Laura’s favorite), so her battalion staff would hoard them for use when they had to deliver bad news. She shared a tent with 65 of her troops, discovering to her surprise how loudly some men snore. They all slept in their uniforms or stripped down to T shirts. There were separate showers for men and women.
Lauren was 14 then and moved in with her friend Callie. They put twin beds together in their bedroom and called it the “hotel”. Callie’s mother, Cecilia, whose husband was also in the gulf, offered to take Lauren in so she could finish the eighth grade with the rest of her class, before moving to Colorado with her grandparents. “I like sleeping over at a friend’s house for a month. It’s fun. But it’s not home,” Lauren said, not finding fault, just stating a fact. Aunt Elaine, a nurse in Denver, planned on being a companion aunt with Lauren for the summer.
The 101st redeployed to Fort Campbell in January and February 2004. In the summer of 2004 the Richardson’s turned over their commands and moved back to Washington, D.C. Laura was assigned as the Army Campaign Planner in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans in Army headquarters. James attended the National War College in Washington, D.C., and then worked in the G3/5/7 staff of Army headquarters. From August 2006 to June 2007 Laura attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. She was promoted to full Colonel January 1st, 2007. James, already a Colonel, moved in December 2006 back to Fort Campbell and assumed command of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. In July 2007, Laura was named Post Commander of US Army Garrison, Fort Myer, Virginia (Washington, D.C.) Lauren stayed with Laura to finish her senior year in high school before starting college in Virginia.
In December 2007, Col James Richardson deployed with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade to Afghanistan. The Brigade returned in March 2009, James turned over his command and went back to the Pentagon, where he was assigned as the Executive Officer to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
In October 2009 Colonel Laura Richardson was assigned as the Chief of the Senate Liaison Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Army. The Senate Liaison Office is the primary point of contact with members of the US Senate, their staff, and relevant committees to assist them in understanding policies, actions, operations and requirements of the Army, and to respond to their questions to the Army. She served in that position until June 2011. On June 6th, 2011, Senator Mark Udall entered a tribute to Colonel Laura Richardson into the congressional record for her outstanding performance in that position.
In July 2010, James moved to Fort Hood, Texas and became the Assistant Division Commander for Support of the 1st Cavalry Division. On March 28th, 2011, he was promoted to Brigadier General, the authorized rank for his position. In May 2011 the Division Headquarters, and one Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division deployed to Afghanistan, which also made BG James Richardson the Deputy Commanding General of Combined Joint Task Force-1, in Regional Command-East.
In July 2011, Laura moved to Fort Hood and became Commander of the US Army Operational Test Command. That command tests every item coming into the Army, before it is placed in the hands of the troops.
She was promoted to Brigadier General on March 2nd, 2012, and five days later the Army announced that BG Laura Richardson would become the first female Assistant Division Commander in history, replacing her husband who would be returning from Afghanistan the following month. On July 5th, 2012, BG Laura became an Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, and BG James became the Deputy Commander of III Corps (three corps or 3rd Corps), both at Fort Hood.
In April 2013, III Corps Headquarters deployed to Afghanistan and assumed the mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command, or IJC, which was responsible for day-to-day operations throughout Afghanistan. This sent BG James Richardson back to Afghanistan for his fourth tour. BG Laura Richardson also went to Afghanistan as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications in ISAF Headquarters. In Kabul, on May 28th, 2013,BG Laura got to pin a second star on her husband, now Major General James Richardson. James wore two hats, he was Deputy Commander of III Corps and Commander of the National Support Element. In June 2013 a ceremony was held in Kabul officially transferring responsibility for nationwide security operations from ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces. James was responsible for the “draw down” of US forces and the redeployment of troops and equipment, as well as the security of all US bases in Afghanistan. An article from that time said; “With 68,000 soldiers and 100,000 contractors in Afghanistan, simply trying to synchronize operations and make sure everyone is integrated is a complex task. A typical day for Major General Richardson begins 4:30 a.m. and ends around midnight.”
III Corps and the Richardson’s returned to Fort Hood in April 2014, and at a retreat ceremony on May 22nd, the Richardson’s were praised for their service at Fort Hood, as they departed.
Major General James Richardson took command of the Army Aviation and Missile Command and Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville), Alabama on June 12th, 2014 and Laura was assigned as the Chief of Legislative Liaison in the Pentagon, and promoted to Major General on August 14th, 2014.
On February 16, 2016, MG James Richardson turned over his command and moved back to Washington to become Director of the Quadrennial Defense Review Office in the Pentagon.
The higher in rank the smaller the Army becomes. There are just over 110 Major Generals and less than 50 Lieutenant Generals in the Army. At that level “everybody knows everybody”, and as Chief of Legislative Liaison, Laura Richardson was in the absolute spot light for three years, communicating with congress, testifying before congress and assisting others testifying before congress.
In April 2017, the Deputy Commander of FORSCOM (US Army Forces Command), the United States largest military command, including all active, reserve, and National Guard combat troops in the continental US., LTG Patrick J Donahue, who had a stellar record as a commander and was speculated by many to get a 4th star, suddenly submitted his retirement to become effective on May 31st, because of family health issues.
In the Fayetteville Observer, Drew Brooks quoted General Robert “Abe” Abrams. The FORSCOM Commander, as saying; “When Pat Donahue told me that he was retiring, I knew that there was one person I wanted as the deputy and that was Laura Richardson.” Despite, their never having worked together, he said: “I know her reputation. I’ve seen her work… “She’s the exact right leader at the exact right time.”
Jim Richardson once said that his fast-moving wife would never outrank him, because he would retire first.
On May 25th 2017, the US Senate approved Laura J Richardson’s promotion to Lieutenant General and assignment as Deputy Commander of US Army Forces Command.
LTG Laura Richardson has been on TV shows and the cover of Time Magazine as a trail blazing successful woman. She has always appeared as a “pretty little girl”, always smiling. I watched an hour and a half interview with her by the Army Department of Military History. That interview was conducted in 2007 and she was congenial, articulate, professional and very smart. She came across as a “down to earth” common sense person, but I got the feeling, by the time that interview was over, that the inside of that petite, extremely smart, pretty woman was constructed of steel. I’ve known men who were natural born leaders, who carried an aura of confidence and authority about them. When they speak people listen, and when they move people follow. I’m sure that there are many, but Laura Richardson is the first woman whom I have seen exhibit those characteristics.
In 2018, North Korea was a very sensitive area, President Trump was directly negotiating with the North Korean President. When the Commander of US/United Nations Forces in South Korea, General Vincent K Brooks, suddenly decided to retire, it caused a knee-jerk reaction in the US. Instead of going through the process of selecting a replacement, the top commander in the country was pulled from his command and sent to Korea.
On October 17th 2018, General Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, went to FORSCOM Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and instead of a “Change of Command” conducted a “Relinquishment of Command” ceremony. During the ceremony he turned to Lieutenant General (LTG) Laura Richardson, the Deputy Commander of FORSCOM and now the “Acting Commander”, and said; “You’re going to be commanding this command for a considerable length of time. It will be measured in months, not days or weeks. We know that you’re going to do a great job and we know that everyone in forces command is going to do as great a job for Laura Richardson as you did for Abe Abrams.”
Husband James, caught up with Laura, in rank, in October 2018, when he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and assigned as the Deputy Commander of the new US Army Futures Command, in Austin, Texas.
After her designation as acting commander, Daniel S. Morgan, an Army Colonel retiring in December, of that year, wrote an article titled “The Army Finally Got it Right”, in the hill.com. He wrote, “I was an infantry company commander during the invasion of Iraq and spent many of hours in the back of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters that she and her fellow units flew. I also overlapped with her in 1999-2000 when she was the military assistant to Vice President Al Gore, and I was the executive assistant to Gen. Barry McCaffrey, then a presidential cabinet officer as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Her reputation was extraordinary then, as it is today. Every decision in the Army is judged on the basis of combat readiness and its impact on the Army’s ability to deter, deny and defeat the enemy in battle. With the appointment of LTG Richardson, the Army promoted the right leader. She is the real deal.”
For five months LTG Laura Richardson commanded all US Army combat soldiers, active, reserve, and guard, in the continental US, as the commander of the United States largest military command, US Army Forces Command.
On March 21st 2019, Michael X. Garrett, was promoted to four stars and assumed command of Forces Command, and in July 2019, LTG Laura Richardson assumed command of US Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Army North’s primary mission is homeland security, which includes the border with Mexico.
On Monday, March 8th 2021, International Women’s Day, President Biden announced his nomination of two women to four stars. Air Force LTG Jacqueline Van Ovost, to be Commander of the United States Transportation Command, and Army LTG Laura Richardson to be commander of the United States Southern Command.
That is not only a huge command, but the most active in terms of everyday, real world missions, in this hemisphere, south of the United States.
The US Southern Command, currently commanded by Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, is what is called a Unified Combatant Command, consisting of elements from all the armed services. It’s area of responsibility is all of Central and South America, and their adjacent waters, the Caribbean Sea with all its US and European nations and territories.
Subordinate commands of the USSOUTHCOM are;
US Army South, headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, commanded by Major General Daniel R. Walrath. US Army South conducts humanitarian and civil assistance operations throughout the area. Has around four thousand troops deployed.
Special Operations Command South, headquartered at Homestead Air Base, near Miami, commanded by Rear Admiral Keith B. Davids. SOCSOUTH has a US Army Special Forces Company, with all attached Special Operations support units, Naval Special Warfare Unit Four, and Joint Special Operations Air Component South.
Air Forces Southern/12 Air Force, headquartered at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, commanded by Major General Barry R. Cornish, is basically an Air Force Special Operations command.
US Naval Forces Southern Command/US Fourth Fleet, headquartered at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, commanded by Captain Richard S. Lofgren, oversees naval operations throughout the USSOUTHCOM area.
US Marine Forces South (USMARFORSOUTH), headquartered at Doral, Florida, commanded by Brigadier General Phillip N. Frietze, runs Marine Force operations throughout the USSOUTHCOM area.
Joint Task Force – Bravo, at Soto-Cano Air Base, Honduras, commanded by Army Colonel John D. Litchfield, is the forward deployed activity to provide partner nations, humanitarian and civic assistance, counterdrug, contingency and disaster relief operations in Central America.
Joint Interagency Task Force South (JITFS), headquartered at Naval Air Station Key West Florida, commanded by US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Douglas Fears, is an interagency coordinator and overseer of counter drug, smuggling, and terrorist activity in the USSOUTHCOM area.
Joint Task Force Guantanamo – Runs GTMO.
This is a big job, and a lot of people think that this pretty lady of steel, is who needs to command it.