A Fountain Valley native who rose through the ranks to become the first woman to lead a U.S. Army infantry division relinquished her command, capping a 36-year military career on Sunday.
Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager leaves the 40th Infantry Division based in Los Alamitos after leading 10,000 Army National Guard soldiers serving on the West Coast of the United States and as far away as Hawaii and Guam.
“This is the best posting of my life and it is such a joy for me to be able to leave this command and retire feeling like I had the best job I could ever have… I never imagined myself here as a division commander,” Yeager said.
Maj. Gen. Michael Leeney, who previously served as Yeager’s deputy commander, received his second star and assumed command of Yeager in a ceremony at Camp Roberts near San Luis Obispo on Sunday. An Army National Guard artillery battery fired a celebratory volley for the new boss.
The 40th Infantry Division and the California National Guard responded to the governor’s call to assist the civilian response to the pandemic. California rangers have administered more than 250,000 COVID-19 tests, provided 2.5 million meals to communities and distributed 1.4 million COVID-19 vaccines, Yeager said.
In March, Yeager traveled to Poland to visit guards deployed to train and reassure NATO allies amid the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.
“As we have seen in Ukraine, there are powerful and reckless authoritarian dictators who absolutely hate the idea of democracy because it is proof that their path has failed… Our strength and our unity are the best deterrents against the threats they pose,” Yeager said. said Sunday.
Among Yeager’s other notable actions in his last role was overseeing the activation of guards amid statewide civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd. Guardsmen patrolled the streets of Los Angeles County, manning security barriers at Los Angeles City Hall and protecting critical infrastructure such as power plants and ports.
The Guard has also been activated to assist with evacuations and suppression of several wildfires.
As commander of the soldiers who would be called upon to fight in the Pacific, Yeager was also at the forefront of helping the U.S. military plan for a potential conflict with the People’s Republic of China. Last year, Yeager visited US soldiers during artillery training with Japan Ground Self-Defense during Orient Shield in Hokkaido, Japan.
Yeager’s educational and military career began in Orange County. Yeager graduated from Fountain Valley High School in 1982 and received her commission as a second lieutenant in 1986 from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Cal State Long Beach.
At that time, the United States Army prohibited women from serving in ground combat roles. Airwomen in the Army have since risen to the highest ranks of the service. Last year, General Laura Richardson became the highest-ranking woman in the military after President Joe Biden appointed her to head US Southern Command.
After giving birth to her first son, Yeager temporarily retired from active duty after eight years in the United States Army. She then resumed her active military career in the California National Guard.
Yeager served as a 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.
With two deployments to Afghanistan and another to Sinai, Egypt, Leeney brings extensive leadership experience from more than 34 years as an active duty soldier and member of the National Guard.
“Congratulations General Leeney… you are a talented leader and the force is strong within you. I know The Division is in very good hands,” Yeager said, making audience members laugh for his apparent Star Wars reference.
Yeager thanked her husband, retired Lt. Col. Curtis Yeager, for carrying the extra load home with their children. She remarked that he would be happy to no longer have to keep up with his busy travel schedule.
“I’ve tested people a lot of times. There are some vacations where you really can’t take a vacation because you’re on your phone all the time. So those days are over for me. I’m going to focus on enjoying my family and spending time with the grandkids,” Yeager said.
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