A Woman Is Running the U.S. Air War Over Libya

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Then-Brig. Gen. Margaret Woodward escorts former President George W. Bush to his plane on the last day of his presidency / Air Force photo by Bobby Jones

The Obama Administration is pushing back hard that it was women – specifically Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and National Security Council staffer Samantha Power – who exhorted the White House into war with Libya. But they can’t deny that it’s a woman – for the first time in U.S. history – running the American slice of the air war now happening over Libya.

“It was a spectacular display of airmenship watching this coalition come together the way it did to execute the first air strikes on behalf of the Libyan people,” said Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, Operation Odyssey Dawn Joint Force Air Component Commander, shortly after bombing began over Libya last Saturday. “Our bombers and fighters performed magnificently and we are fully behind protecting the innocent Libyan citizens while ensuring the safety of coalition aircraft.”

Woodward’s “normal” job is commander of the German-based U.S. 17th Air Force, which is the aviation wing of U.S. Africa Command. Its key mission is building relationships with various African nations and to “assist our African partners in developing national and regional security institution capabilities that promote security and stability and facilitate development,” according to AFAFRICA’s mission statement. Her territory includes 53 nations, 11 million square miles and more than 900 million people.

U.S. Africa Command Commander Army General William E. “Kip” Ward, now retired, presided at the ceremony last June when Woodward became commander of 17th Air Force and AFAFRICA. “There is no doubt in my mind that you are prepared and that you are the person for the job,” he told her.

“You have my word,” she responded, “that every day you allow me the privilege of command, our team will seek to turn today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities, and work tirelessly to make extraordinary potential reality.” Not that she had waging war over Libya in mind. U.S. Africa Command was less than two years old when she assumed command, and it was thought to be an assignment largely filled with training, education and development-type missions.

A 1983 graduate of Arizona State University, Woodward has commanded and flown in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spent close to 4,000 hours flying, largely in cargo, training and refueling aircraft. From 2007 to 2009 she commanded the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, home of Air Force One, just outside Washington, D.C. – where she escorted President George W. Bush to his plane for his flight home to Texas on President Obama’s inauguration day, following Bush’s eight years in the White House.