UNH Grad Makes History at NORAD

A former Granite State woman has made military history

When you think about NORAD (if you think about it at all), the first thing to come to mind is probably either outdated Cold War politics or Santa tracking. The Colorado-based command did keep an eye on the sky for mid-century nuclear threats, and it does track Kris Kringle each December 25, but the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) does far more than that — and they recently announced some big news with Granite State roots.

NORAD and NORTHCOM (US Northern Command) named Gen. Lori Robinson as their new commander on May 13. Robinson is not just the first female commander of NORAD and NORTHCOM; she’s the first woman to lead any military combatant command in the United States — and she got her start in the military right here in New Hampshire.

Robinson’s appointment comes after Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened all military combat positions to women last December. The move allows women to fill more than 200,000 jobs in the armed forces that could previously only be held by men, from infantry and armor positions to special operations.

Of those jobs, the NORAD/NORTHCOM position is one of the most prestigious. NORAD, a joint command of US and Canadian forces, oversees aerospace over all of the two nations’ lands, and NORTHCOM, created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, protects the United States from terror threats and oversees security cooperation with Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. The organizations, closely linked thanks to their shared command center near Colorado Springs, are particularly important amid the military’s current efforts to combat terrorist groups such as ISIS.

To cut through the jargon, this job is a big deal. And it’s an even bigger deal to have it filled by a woman.

Of course, Robinson would be eminently qualified regardless of her gender. She’s a four-star general, served as commander of the Pacific Air Forces and holds a long list of military honors and awards, including the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star. She’s not just one of the most accomplished women in the US military; she’s one of its most accomplished people, period.

Robinson echoed this sentiment when speaking to reporters in Washington late last year.

“As for the woman part of it all,” she said, “as I often say to people, I’m the commander of the Pacific Air Forces, I’m a general in the United States Air Force, I’m an airman and I just happen to be a woman.”

She also just happens to be a New Hampshire woman. She participated in Air Force ROTC at UNH, graduating in 1981, and has lived in Bartlett. Her father, a 30-year veteran himself, still lives in Jackson.

So, the next time you see the NORAD Santa tracker in action, remember: you have a very accomplished former New Hampshire resident to thank.

Categories: Features