Laura J. Richardson
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Laura J. Richardson. U.S. Army photo.

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In a career full of firsts, Colorado native Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson has added yet another one to her already storied military tenure.

Richardson on Wednesday became the first woman to lead the U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, N.C., the largest command in the Army, representing 776,000 soldiers and 96,000 civilians. As commander, Richardson will oversee the training and deployment of combat troops.

The promotion to acting commanding general will be on an interim basis, the Army said, until a new commander is chosen and confirmed by the Senate. Richardson replaces Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams, who is leaving to lead U.S. Forces Korea.

“You’re going to be commanding this command for a considerable length of time,” Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley said to Richardson at a ceremony on Wednesday. “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.”

Richardson has made it a habit of breaking down barriers throughout her career.

In 2012, she became the first woman to serve as an Army division deputy commander for the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas — considered one of the branch’s most-powerful and storied units.

And last year, Richardson became the first woman to serve as deputy commander of forces command.

“Each of my assignments — from platoon leader to company commander to the commanding general of the Operational Test Command — has challenged me to learn and excel as a soldier and a leader,” she said at the time.

Richardson now has the “unenviable task” of doing her deputy job in addition to her new role as acting commander, Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, Forces Command’s director of public affairs, said.

Richardson has a great understanding for how forces command works, Lawhorn said. “She was certainly the right choice when she was named deputy commanding general.”

Richardson grew up in Northglenn, the eldest of four siblings. She graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in psychology.

She was always precocious, earning her civilian pilot’s license at the age of 16. Her first assignment after flight school was in Korea with the 17th Aviation Brigade. She served as military aide to former Vice President Al Gore and as a liaison to the U.S. Senate.

But she has always found her calling as a leader in the field.

“The command thing, being able to lead America’s sons and daughters, to teach and train them, go to combat with them, is by far the most rewarding position I’ve had,” Richardson told the Denver Post in 2012. “If you’d asked me at ROTC at Metro State if I’d ever be a commander in combat, flying helicopters, or the vice president’s military aide, I never would have believed that.”

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