Jacqueline D. Van Ovost Becomes Military’s Fifth Female Four Star General
When newly commissioned 2nd Lt. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost tossed her cover in the sky as the Thunderbirds roared over Falcon Stadium, she was graduating into an Air Force that would repeatedly tell her “no.”
After a delayed entry to the Academy because of not doing enough pull-ups to meet the requirement, she graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering. Despite years of flying experience and taking a test pilot short course, the Air Force at the time still wouldn’t put a woman in the cockpit of a combat jet. And after graduating from undergraduate pilot training and asking to fly every fighter in the fleet, she was told to fly an airlifter. She later became a test pilot anyway.
After 32 years in service, including flying 4,200 hours in more than 30 aircraft, and tours in both the Air and Joint Staff, Van Ovost on Aug. 20 became the Defense Department’s only four-star female general—the fifth in Air Force history. During a ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., she took over that distinction and command of Air Mobility Command from her predecessor and the DOD’s previous only female four-star, retiring Gen. Maryanne Miller.
“Standing in the stadium, in 1988 at the Air Force Academy, about to throw my hat in the air, I never would have thought I [would become] a four-star,” Van Ovost said in an interview. “I was very focused on being a pilot, and being the best pilot I could be, and to make a difference in that way. And here we are, standing at the precipice of what might be called a pinnacle of military leadership. But frankly, it’s not so much a pinnacle. For me, it’s a new beginning. It’s a new opportunity to ask key questions, to shape the force in a way to make sense, and provide clarity to the strategic environment that we live in.”
Van Ovost got into the aviation business as early as anyone can. She flew her first solo on her 16th birthday, got her private pilot’s license on her 17th birthday, and one year later got her single and multi-engine instructor rating. During these years, she volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, which sparked her interest in going into the military, making her want to fly the fastest and best aircraft.
At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., she served both as a test pilot, then later on as an instructor, flying dozens of aircraft, though the A-10 was her favorite because of its legendary gun. “You could not wipe the smile off my face for weeks after that flight,” she said.