When Brig. Gen. Laura Richardson was announced as the deputy commander of support for the 1st Cavalry Division last year, there was quite a buzz.
Headlines spread across the country as the woman who was selected as the first female to lead the U.S. Army Operational Test Command was now moving on, after just one year in command, to serve as the first female deputy commander of an Army division.
Adding interest to the story, the Colorado native took the job from “the other” Brig. Gen. Richardson, her husband James, who is now the deputy commander of III Corps and deployed to Afghanistan.
An aviator by trade, Richardson is just one of 19 female general officers in the Army, yet she said she felt no pressure joining America’s First Team with so many eyes watching.
“I know that’s not very exciting,” she said during an interview in her office overlooking Cooper Field last week. “It felt like the next job assignment, honestly, because ... I think that the expectation from everyone that we work with is that we get confident and competent people to do the job.”
With just 10 months at the division, Richardson is already saying farewell, as she, too, heads to Afghanistan to serve as the deputy chief of staff for strategic communication for the International Security Assistance Force.
During her farewell ceremony Friday morning, Richardson said when she joined the division, she asked advice of two people: former division commander, retired Gen. Robert Shoemaker; and her husband of 25 years.
Shoemaker told her during Vietnam, he traveled by helicopter to visit the troops, ensured they had supplies and everything they needed, and that cheered them up. Her husband told her to find something to focus on.
She seemed to combine the two, focusing on “maintenance of people and equipment” with a hands-on approach. Instead of observing systems from her office, Richardson preferred to get down into the motor pools to meet with soldiers, then spend about six or seven hours engaging the leadership of a unit.
“You can’t hide anything,” she said. “You can fake it for an hour, but you’re really going to find out what kind of dynamics the unit has and is there good, strong leadership and good systems by being there around them, talking to them and having them ask you questions.
“It’s all about learning. It’s the same thing I had to do when I was a battalion commander. I learned so much when my assistant division commander came down to do the same thing.
“All the prep I did I thought, ‘Wow, I know a lot about this unit, but I don’t know as much as I thought I knew.’ That’s why it was an easy program in terms of instituting in the division. As deputy commanding general you want to find something that can help move the division forward.”