NORAD general: First female Air Force Commander is about more than gender

Gen. Lori Robinson's appointment as the the US Air Force's first female Commander is historic, but to those who know her, it isn't the least bit surprising.

US Air Force/AP
Gen. Lori Robinson, shown here in an undated Air Force photo, assumes the role of first female Air Force commandant on Friday. She will lead the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and US Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

The US Air Force is about to appoint the first woman to head a top-tier warfighting command. But to those who know her, what truly sets Gen. Lori J. Robinson apart is her knowledge and understanding of the Air Force, not her gender.

They also say General Robinson exemplifies a changing Air Force, one that is adept in meeting challenges in cybersecurity, drones, and space as much as in flying and fighting.

"She has an ability to take all the different pieces of the picture and pull it together strategically," Maria Carl, a retired Air Force colonel who knows Robinson, told the Associated Press. "Gen. Robinson reflects that change as much as anything else."

On Friday, Robinson will take over the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the US Northern Command in Colorado. She will start her new assignment at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Robinson was previously the Commander of Pacific Air Forces and Air Component Commander for the US Pacific Command, and the executive director of Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

Robinson’s entire family has connections to the Air Force. Her husband, retired two-star Gen. David Robinson, was a pilot in the Thunderbirds demonstration team. His daughter, 2nd Lt. Taryn Ashley Robinson, graduated from the Air Force Academy in June 2005 but died following fatal injuries in a pilot-training crash. Robinson’s father, George Howard, was a pilot in the Vietnam War and a veteran of the Air Force. He accompanied her to the hearing for her new job in April.

NORAD is a joint operation between the United States and Canada. One of its most popular projects is the NORAD Tracks Santa operation on Christmas Eve, which lets children know where Santa is.

Robinson’s other command, the Northern Command, was created after the September 11 terrorist attacks and is responsible for defending US territory from attack. It’s one of nine warfighting centers, or combatant commands, that has responsibility for a specific geographic area or role. The other eight are all led by men.

"I think it's very reassuring that you have a strong leader and a compassionate leader," Darryll Wong, a retired Air Force major general and Hawaii's former adjutant general, told AP. "It says a lot to the enlisted [personnel]."

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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