She Once Was Barred from Fighter Jets. Now She’s the Pentagon’s Only Female 4-Star General
U.S. Air Force General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Air Mobility Command Commander, receives a mission briefing during her visit to the 349th Air Mobility Wing Headquarters, Travis Air Force Base, California, September 1, 2020. Van Ovost took time to visit Air Force Reserve Command’s largest wing during her first visit to Travis as AMC commander. (Dennis S. Santarinala/U.S. Air Force)
Posted: September 13, 2020 --- Military.com | By Oriana Pawlyk
It was the morning of June 18, 1983. Jacqueline Van Ovost, just 17 at the time, got up early to witness history in the making. She flew her father's Cessna 172 Skyhawk up the coast from Fort Pierce to Melbourne, Florida, roughly 25 miles from Cape Canaveral, where Sally Ride was about to embark on NASA's 7th shuttle mission and become the 1st woman in space.
Donning her blue "Ride, Sally, Ride" T-shirt in the cockpit, Van Ovost circled in the sky for most of the morning in a holding pattern as the space shuttle Challenger prepared for liftoff, finally streaking across the sky. Van Ovost, now an Air Force 4-star General and head of Air Mobility Command, kept that T-shirt for the next 30 years, partly to celebrate Ride's momentous achievement -- but mostly because it symbolized opportunity for women just like her.
"She made that much of an impression on me," Van Ovost said in an interview, adding that she never had the chance to meet Ride in person. "At the time, I was in Civil Air Patrol, and I couldn't stop talking about what the possibilities for any woman were at that point." Today, Van Ovost is the Pentagon's only female 4-star general, and the 5th in the U.S. Air Force's 73-year history.
She's been a test pilot; Commander of a refueling squadron, a training wing and an airlift wing; and the head of the C-17 Globemaster III program at the Pentagon. She has served as the Vice Director to the Joint Staff, among many other postings following her graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1988. But she doesn't think of herself as a trailblazer. "Frankly, I never wanted to be 'the first,'" she said. "I've been fortunate that other people have broken those glass ceilings and I've been able to blaze right behind them and widen the trail."