Mar 8, 2021
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Lloyd Austin International Women’s Day Speeches Transcript March 8
President Joe Biden, VP Kamala Harris, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gave speeches on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021. Read the transcript of their speeches here.
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Secretary Lloyd Austin: (05:24)
Mr. President, Madam Vice President. I’m honored to be here today representing the more than three million women and men of the Department of Defense. Thank you so much for welcoming us and for making these historic nominations. Both of you lead by example and the example that you set in all things is one of inclusiveness. You know that the diversity of our nation makes us stronger and that diversity in our military ranks makes us better at defending the American people. Just as critically, you know that leadership doesn’t come conveniently packaged. You know that it comes from lived experience, everyone’s lived experience. Today, you are nominating for a combatant command two extraordinary military leaders whose lived experience encompasses nearly 70 years of uniform service, in peace and in war. They have known sacrifice, they have known loss, and they have known victory. They have flown and fought for this country across the continents from the waning days of the Cold War right up to the modern days of wars that we still wage. General Richardson and her husband Jim deployed to war together in 2003 as helicopter battalion commanders, flying dangerous missions over Iraq and also Laura’s brother and sister were serving there too, making national security something of a family business.
Secretary Lloyd Austin: (07:12)
General Van Ovost was a pioneer in the development of the rugged C-17 cargo plane, conducting dirt takeoff and landings and air drops in this mammoth aircraft as one of its very first test pilots. In becoming a test pilot, she also achieved her dream of flying fighter aircraft, even though women were still barred from flying in combat, and undeterred, she would later fly the KC-135 tanker in combat over the skies of Iraq and Afghanistan, refueling numerous aircraft in support of the Joint Force. Each in their own way has been a trailblazer, even if that wasn’t the goal. And each in their own way, like you Mr. President and Madam Vice President, has led by example and they still do. As General Van Ovost so eloquently put it not long ago, it’s important to have first and onlys. Today Mr. President, your nominations ensure that all Americans, women and men alike, will see these two special people continue to lead at the highest levels. They will see them continue to defend this nation and they will see as you like to say sir, the power of their example. Now, it’s my great pleasure to introduce another great leader, the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (09:15)
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, military and national security leaders. We’re here today for an extremely important occasion. At this moment, we face global threats to our climate and our health. To our physical security and cybersecurity. Our capacity to meet this moment is determined both by our diplomatic strength and by our ability to build a strong, smart, and sustainable military force. A force that recruits the most talented. A force that retains the most capable. A force that advances the best of the best. General Jacqueline Van Ovost and Lieutenant General Laura Richardson are some of the best and in fact I would say the best of the best.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (10:16)
General Van Ovost graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1988. Since then, she has logged more than 4,200 hours in the air and she serves today as commander of the Air Mobility Command. Lieutenant General Richardson was commissioned into the United States Army Aviation Branch in 1986. She has flown Black Hawks and commanded battalions and today she serves as commanding general of the United States Army North. General Van Ovost and Lieutenant General Richardson have been tested under the most difficult circumstances and they are proven leaders.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (11:05)
The president and I have full confidence in them to address the complex threats we face to help lead our troops and to keep our nation safe. As it is International Women’s Day, I should also mention that General Van Ovost and Lieutenant General Richardson are but two of the many, many women who have defended our nation throughout our history. During the American Revolution, women rode horseback through enemy territory to transport sensitive military information. During the Civil War, women disguised themselves as men and fought for the Union Army. In World War II, women served as SPARs, as WACs, as WAVES and WASPs. And today, women military members are stationed around the world.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (12:03)
I say this to remind us, while it has only been five years since all combat jobs have opened to women, women have been in the line of fire risking their lives to protect our nation long before that. Today, we know women make up 16% of our active duty military and 19% of our enlisted officers. We also know that women want to serve and that our military is stronger when they do. Look no further than General Van Ovost and Lieutenant Governor Richardson for proof. Recruiting more women to our military, adjusting policies to retain more women, enforcing policies to protect women, and ensure they are heard and advancing more women on fair and equal footing will without any question make our nation safer and that’s the work ahead. So for now, let me congratulate General Van Ovost and Lieutenant General Richardson and with that, it is my great honor to introduce our commander in chief, President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden: (13:37)
Thank you Madam Vice President. Thank you Mr. Secretary. On Friday, I submitted to the Senate for confirmation my first slate of nominations for four-star command positions in our Armed Forces. Among them, two outstanding and eminently qualified warriors and patriots. General Jacqueline Van Ovost and the United States Air Force is currently the only female four-star officer serving in our military. I nominated her as commander of the United States Transportation command and when confirmed, the lieutenant general Laura Richardson of the United States Army will be promoted to the rank and join General Van Ovost as the only four-star … As another four-star general.
President Joe Biden: (14:33)
I nominated her as commander of the United States Southern Command, and when confirmed, they will become the second and third women in the history of the United States Armed Forces to lead combatant commands. Each of these women have led careers demonstrating incomparable skill, integrity and duty to country and at every step, they’ve also helped push open the doors of opportunity to women in our military. Blazing the trail a little wider, a little brighter, for all proud women following in their path and looking to their example.
President Joe Biden: (15:14)
I wanted to shine the light on these accomplishments for those women today because General Van Ovost has reiterated in an interview this last week and I’m the second person to say this, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, that you’ll soon see. Today is International Women’s Day and we all need to see and to recognize the barrier-breaking accomplishments of these women. We need the young women just beginning their careers in the military service to see it and know that no door will be closed to them. We need women and men throughout the ranks to see and celebrate women’s accomplishments and leadership in the services. We need little girls and boys both who have grown up dreaming of serving for their country to know this is what generals in the United States Armed Forces look like. This is what Vice Presidents of the United States look like.
President Joe Biden: (16:18)
So I’d like to spend just a few minutes today making sure that America knows who General Van Ovost is and Lieutenant General Richardson is. They’re aviators. Both learned to fly planes before they were old enough to drive a car. General Van Ovost is a first-generation American. The daughter of Dutch immigrants who owned a flying operation. She loved the freedom of flight and as a teenager flew herself to see Sally Ride lift off as the first woman in space. Was 16 years old. Goes down to see Sally Ride. She says she was at several thousand feet, watching from a distance. Women were banned from flying combat missions when the general joined the force. So she focused on becoming the test pilot. Instead of learning to fly just one plane, she learned to fly everything including Air Force Two when I was vice president. General Van Ovost currently oversees air mobility command, approximately 107,000 airmen, and 1,100 planes that enable America’s airpower and humanitarian assistance to go everywhere in the world that need be. From flying water to Texas after the recent storms to ensuring our wounded warriors are evacuated for medical care from anywhere in the world, she gets it done.
President Joe Biden: (17:55)
Lieutenant General Richardson’s parents were proud patriots and must have rubbed off because Lieutenant General Richardson and her brother and sister all joined the Army. Her father encouraged her to join ROTC in college, even though that meant commuting to a different school. When Lieutenant General Richardson joined the Army Aviation Branch, women were banned from flying attack helicopters. She flew in support of combat missions and conducting lift operations [inaudible 00:18:30], the so-called [inaudible 00:18:32], and the Black Hawks. Now as a commanding general of the United States Army North, Lieutenant General Richardson oversees military ground responses here in North America. All over the last year, that’s meant getting military medical personnel deployed to help in our response to this pandemic. More than 4,500 military medical personnel deployed in hospitals across 14 states and the Navajo nation to treat COVID-19 patients. It means more than 2,200 medical personnel are working or soon will be at vaccination sites in eight states and the United States Virgin Islands. I am so proud of the incredible work Lieutenant General Richardson and her team have done to support the American people this year, and the American people are as well. They’re warriors, they’re crisis-tested commanders, and best of all, they’re not done yet.
President Joe Biden: (19:39)
Due to these incredible generals [inaudible 00:19:42] resting on her laurels, or on her stars. They’re using their voices and actively working to change policies in the military to make it easier and safer for more women not just to join the military but to stay in the military and to thrive. I’m incredibly proud that in 2015 under the Obama-Biden administration, we took the final steps to open up all positions in the military to anyone qualified to serve in them. The women who join today’s military aren’t told no when they apply to fly fighter jets or attack helicopters just because of their gender. They aren’t told no when they want to apply to Ranger school or infantry officer basic training, but they all know that there’s much, much more work to be done to ensure that women’s leadership is recognized and we have more diverse leaders, we reach the top echelons of command for all who are qualified, including all women, all women, and that all women feel safe and respected in our military, period.
President Joe Biden: (21:00)
Some of its relatively straightforward work where we’re making good progress, designing body armor that fits women properly, tailoring combat uniforms for women, creating maternity flight suits, updating requirements for their hairstyles and [inaudible 00:21:21] going to take an intensity of purpose and mission to really change the culture and habits that cause women to leave the military.
President Joe Biden: (21:35)
Women are making sure more diverse candidates are considering, being considered for career advancing opportunities at every single level. That women aren’t penalized in their careers for having children. That women aren’t just token members, but integral parts throughout all branches and all divisions, and that they can completely, fairly engage in promotion, compete all across the board including on age and gender neutrality and physical fitness tests that both members of the military couples can thrive while serving. Like Lieutenant General Richardson and her husband, Lieutenant General Richardson, who I might add, I want to thank him for getting me off a mountain that was about 12 to 14,000 feet up on a goat path when our helicopter went down in a snowstorm. It’s good to see you, General. The ride down that mountain was more perilous in the truck than it was in a helicopter but thank you, and we have to take on sexual assault and harassment and violence against omen in the military. Sexual assault is abhorrent and wrong at any time and in our military, so much of unit cohesion is built on trusting your fellow service members to have your back. There’s nothing less than a threat to our national security.
President Joe Biden: (23:05)
I know Secretary Austin takes this as seriously as Vice President Harris and I do. That’s why his first memo as secretary was a directive to take on sexual assault in the military and why he stepped up independent review … He set up an independent review commission on sexual assault to make concrete recommendations for changes. This is going to be an all hands on deck effort under my administration to end the scourge of sexual assault in the military, and we’re going to be focused on that from the very top. I know that we can do it. The U.S. military has defeated American enemies on land and air and at sea and this is not beyond us. I want to thank General Van Ovost and Lieutenant General Richardson for their exemplary careers in service to our country. You are America’s patriotism at its finest, undaunted and absolutely able to do anything by any obstacle. Determined to open wide the doors of opportunity and ready for the next challenge. It’s my great honor to serve as your commander-in-chief, and I look forward to hearing your active duty recommendations of how we can work together to keep the American people safe and meet every challenge in the 21st century.
President Joe Biden: (24:33)
I want to thank you both and I want to thank the former general, I keep calling him general but my … The guy who runs that outfit over there, I want to make sure we thank the secretary for all he’s done to try to implement what we just talked about and for recommending these two women for promotion. Thank you all and God bless you all and may God protect our troops. [inaudible 00:25:07] Thank you everybody.
Speaker 4: (25:16)
Mr. President, can you pass voting rights with the Senate filibuster in its current form do you think?
President Joe Biden: (25:21)
I can talk to you about that later.
Speaker 4: (25:23)
What about these votes against transgender youth?