Van Ovost Takes Command of TRANSCOM, Pledging to ‘Underpin Lethality’

Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost assumed command of U.S. Transportation Command during a ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., on Oct. 15, becoming just the second woman to lead a combatant command.

Taking over for Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, Van Ovost will lead TRANSCOM as it comes off a string of high-profile logistical challenges.

“You had to keep the American military moving during a historic pandemic, and you delivered,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told the troops of TRANSCOM during the Oct. 15 ceremony. “You had to execute a complex retrograde in Somalia, and you delivered. And you had to conduct the largest noncombatant evacuation airlift in American history in Afghanistan, and you delivered.”

Van Ovost played a key role in these challenges, especially the Afghanistan evacuation, as head of Air Mobility Command, and she has spent much of her career dealing with logistics, previously leading an air refueling squadron, a flying training wing, and the Presidential Airlift Wing. 

Those experiences, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said, make her uniquely qualified to lead the more than 122,000 Active-duty, National Guard, Reserve, and civilian personnel who are part of TRANSCOM. 

“The sky is the limit with Jackie Van Ovost,” Milley said. “She will take TRANSCOM into the future. She will take you to your next rendezvous with destiny, as we say in the Army.”

Both Austin and Milley emphasized the importance of TRANSCOM to the U.S. in a new phase of strategic competition with peer adversaries such as China and Russia.

“Our overmatch capability will continue to rely on the logistical prowess and the ability to project power by TRANSCOM at great distances,” Milley said.

“Logistics remain at the core of our warfighting concept and our ability to project and sustain combat power,” added Austin. “That’s why this command is central to our operations in the 21st century and to our vision of truly integrated deterrence.”

Van Ovost noted that TRANSCOM’s mission is expansive and not always confined to combat operations.

“We understand our mission is critical for national defense to meet our national security objectives. I also know our role is not always to provide combat power, because we deliver hope on behalf of the American people,” Van Ovost said. “I’ve seen our values reflected in the kindness and compassion demonstrated by our teammates executing humanitarian operations around the globe and right here at home.”

At the same time, she said, as the U.S. shifts from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to competition with countries such as China, the command’s military demands will change.

“Know that TRANSCOM’s No. 1 priority remains constant: Warfighting readiness is the surest way to prevent war. We expect that our freedom to maneuver will be challenged; our logistics lines will be contested at every level. But together with our coalition partners and our commercial teammates, we will flatten the globe and underpin the lethality of our nation’s military arm,” Van Ovost said. 

To meet these new challenges, the military needs “every Jackie Van Ovost that we can get,” Austin said, pointing to her trailblazing career as a test pilot who has flown more than 30 kinds of aircraft for the Air Force.

“Gen. Van Ovost, in the 21st century, careers like yours are a fighting imperative,” Austin said. “And as she likes to say, as young women looking up, it’s hard to be what you cannot see. So Gen. Van Ovost knows the importance of breaking barriers, of getting results in bringing teams together. And she’s used to challenges that have never been tackled before.”

Van Ovost is currently the only female four-star general in the Defense Department and just the fourth in Air Force history. She and Gen. Lori J. Robinson are now the only women to lead a unified combatant command—Robinson headed U.S. Northern Command and NORAD from 2016 to 2018. 

Their small club will expand in the coming weeks, though—Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson is set to receive her fourth star and take command of U.S. Southern Command in a ceremony Oct. 29.