This week’s meet a mom is a special one: our interview with LTG Laura Richardson who is Commanding General of U.S. Army North and a mom of one. Her husband, Lieutenant General Jim Richardson, is also in the military, and we asked Richardson what it was like when she and her husband were both deployed when her daughter was young, how motherhood impacted how she approaches her job and what else she wants people to know about her experience.
Can you please tell us a bit about your professional career?
I joined the Army in 1986, and I was so happy to pursue my passion for flying by becoming an Army helicopter pilot. I got my private pilot’s license when I was 15 years old. My first assignment after flight school was in the Republic of Korea and since then I’ve been stationed all over America as well as two combat tours—one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. I’ve had an amazing career with some unique opportunities. I was the military assistant to the Vice President and spent two years carrying the nuclear “football.” I also served as the Army’s director of legislative affairs and have had multiple command assignments with some of the best and brightest people in America – American Soldiers!
Why did you choose to go into the military—do you come from a military family?
I’m fiercely competitive. I was a Colorado state swimming champion and an All-American swimmer in college. The challenge the Army presented appealed to my competitive nature and like many other Soldiers, I thought I’d give the Army a try and leave when I wasn’t having fun anymore. Luckily I’ve been having fun for the past 33 years and I’ve been able to continue to serve my country. Two of my siblings also served in the Army; one was a doctor and one was a lawyer. We joke that we had all the bases covered!
Maj. Gen. Laura J. Richardson’s husband, Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson and daughter Lauren pin on her new rank during her promotion ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, VA, Aug. 14, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez/ Released)
Can you please share a bit about your family life?
I’ve been married to my husband Jim for 32 years. We are a dual military couple; he is also a lieutenant general and he’s stationed up the road from me. I’m in San Antonio and he is in Austin so we are able to see each other regularly now that we are stationed in the same state again. We have a grown daughter, Lauren, and a wonderful granddaughter.
What was it like when you were both deployed and your daughter was younger?
I always tell young Army couples that they absolutely can make both careers work, but it takes work to do it. You have to plan in advance, sometimes a few years in advance. We were so lucky to have supportive friends and family throughout our careers but especially on our first dual deployment—we were the first married Army couple to both command aviation battalions. We went to Iraq in 2003 when our daughter was 14. She finished the school year at Fort Campbell, Kentucky thanks to some wonderful friends whom she lived with and then she moved to Colorado to live with my parents for her first year in high school. She went to the same high school that I did. It was tough for her at the time, but she is so much stronger and more resilient now as an adult thanks to being a military “brat.” Emotionally it can be tough—no one wants to leave their children and loved ones behind—but I am so grateful to the men and women who volunteer to serve their country. One of our Army values is Selfless Service, which includes being willing to leave your family behind to serve and possibly die for your country.
How does being a mom help you in your role/impact your job?
I think being a mom makes me push just a bit harder and I have very high expectations for my Soldiers as a result. Most moms want what’s best for their kids, right? So I think it also makes me really understand the challenges our Soldiers and their Families face—I’ve lived it myself and have spent hours researching new communities, new schools, and new babysitters as we moved around the country and I know just how hard it is to figure out how to balance games, parent-teacher meetings, and the Army. But it’s the strength of our Families that makes our Soldiers strong. We just could not do what we do as an Army without the support of our Families.
What did you tell your daughter when you had to leave? And how did you stay connected while you were away?
You know, my first combat deployment was the start of the Iraq war. It was a really uncertain time to live through. All I could do before I left was let Lauren know how much Jim and I loved her and we did our best to keep in touch. At that time it was hard to make phone calls so we wrote letters and I always had photos of her that I carried with me. I’d take them out to look at and think of what she was doing at that same time on the other side of the world and I’d just send her my love.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, International Security Force-Afghanistan, deputy chief of staff for communications, Brig. Gen. Razia Rahimi, director of nursing for the Afghan Office of the Surgeon General, middle, and Brig. Gen. Khatool Mohammadzai, director of education and training, Afghan Ministry of Defense, join hands to cut the cake in honor of Women’s Equality Day Aug. 26 in Kabul, Afghanistan[/caption]
What is one thing most people don’t realize about your life as a mom and woman in the military?
It’s simply an amazing honor to serve my country. I never thought I’d have the opportunities the Army has offered me throughout the years and I am so grateful for the experiences. That’s not a female thing, that’s an Army thing. I would say that women in the Army often hold themselves to a higher standard—we are all pretty competitive—and I have been so inspired by the very talented female leaders I’ve met who are serving in the Army.
Thank you for sharing your story, and for your service. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t be afraid to dream big, and then work like crazy to accomplish your goals. My dad used to put up motivational sayings around the house when I was little: one of my favorites was “Straight from the bow truth is driven, they fail and they alone who have not striven.”