Major Gen. Laura Yeager took possession of the 40th Infantry Division’s colors on Saturday to the sound of artillery fire, making history as the first woman to lead a U.S. Army division.
The Fountain Valley native assumed command of 10,000 soldiers from the Army National Guard who serve across the West Coast of the United States and as far away as Hawaii and Guam.
“It’s an absolute honor to assume command of this great division,” she said. “It’s had a glorious history of service and recently affirmed its excellence with back-to-back deployments to Afghanistan.”
Major Gen. David Baldwin, chief of the California National Guard, presided over the change of command ceremony at Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, which is home to the 40th Infantry Division’s headquarters.
“Today we’re able to install in command the most well-qualified candidate chosen from the first time in history from a pool of candidates that’s no longer constrained by an anachronistic and discriminatory gender-biased policy,” Baldwin said.
Yeager spoke to hundreds of soldiers standing in formation on the flight line at Los Alamitos Army Airfield. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters displayed behind them paid homage to Yeager’s time as an aeromedical evacuation pilot. In 2011, she deployed to Iraq as deputy commander of the California Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade.
After speaking to her troops on Saturday, Yeager reviewed soldiers marching in formation and a parade of military vehicles, including an M-ATV armored vehicle, an eight-wheeled Stryker fighting vehicle, and Humvee. Two Black Hawks and a CH-47 Chinook also flew over the crowd of spectators.
Yeager’s educational and military career started in Orange County. Yeager graduated from Fountain Valley High School in 1982 and received her commission as second lieutenant in 1986 from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Cal State Long Beach.
After giving birth to her first son, Yeager temporarily retired from active duty after eight years in the U.S. Army. She later resumed her active military career in the California Army National Guard.
Yeager has served as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter aeromedical evacuation pilot and in 2011 was deployed to Iraq as deputy commander of the California Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade.
As the daughter of a retired major general and wife of a lieutenant colonel, Yeager thanked soldiers’ family members for sacrificing time with their loved ones in uniform.
“Having been the daughter of a National Guard soldier, I know personally how drill weekend always seems to land on a birthday, wedding, anniversary, or how the water heater quits working or how the car won’t start on the second day of [training],” Yeager said.
Capt. Gerrelaine Alcordo, a public affairs officer with the 40th Infantry Headquarters, said she was thinking about retiring from the military after 14 years of service but reconsidered after hearing about Yeager’s promotion.
“She’s really shown that the military has really opened up doors for women in the last 10 years,” she said. “She has this smile and warmness in her eyes but she’s also a warrior.”
Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.