PENTAGON - The U.S. military now has its first woman combatant commander.
Air Force General Lori Robinson assumed her role as the new head of U.S. Northern Command Friday during a change of command ceremony attended by the military leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Gen. Robinson thanked her father, an Air Force veteran who served for 30 years, for inspiring her to join the military.
“You are the man,” she said, “and I’ve looked up to you my entire life.”
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter praised Robinson’s “complete set of proven experience” and her “ability to lead and command in high-tempo operational environments while putting her people first in every assignment."
He underscored the backing of President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief. "General Robinson will lead this team with certainty, clarity and with the full trust and confidence of me and the president,” said Carter.
Northern Command protects the geographic area that includes the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and the surrounding waters up to approximately 900 kilometers from the coast.
Robinson said the partnerships of countries defended by Northern Command are “paramount” to tackling the ever-changing security landscape, and she vowed to visit Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas in the coming months.
“The world is more dangerous," Robinson said. “North America is increasingly vulnerable to a vast array of evolving threats.”
Northern Command is one of the Pentagon’s nine unified combatant commands, which combine elements of all the military branches. Each has a responsibility for either a geographic area or specialized focus, such as special forces or transportation.
Northern Command was established to support U.S. homeland defense in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
As combatant commander of Northern Command, Gen. Robinson also leads the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which conducts aerospace and maritime warning, as well as aerospace control in defense of North America. It’s widely known for the popular NORAD Tracks Santa operation every Christmas Eve, where children call in to ask for Santa's location.
Robinson previously served as commander of Pacific Air Forces, where her geographic area of responsibility spanned more than half the world. She is a senior air battle manager with more than 900 flight hours in surveillance and early warning aircraft, and previously held leadership roles in U.S. Air Forces Central Command, which operates in the Middle East.
Robinson’s confirmation was approved in the Senate late last month without opposition.
She replaces Admiral William Gortney, who took command of NORTHCOM and NORAD in December 2014.