Margaret Woodward: Air War Commander

The air war over Libya is being commanded by a woman, Thomas Ricks points out:

This is the general overseeing the American part of the air campaign in Libya. Air Force Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, commander of the 17th Air Force, based in Germany, seems to be an expert in refueling and mobility, which is probably why she was picked for Africa Command, whose planners likely expected the command mainly to be doing humanitarian relief missions. Instead she is overseeing airstrikes by B-2 bombers, F-15E fighter/bombers, and F-16 CJ jammers.

To my knowledge, this is the first time a woman has ever overseen an air campaign.

This was inevitable, as woman are allowed to fill more roles in the armed forces. But Ricks is likely right: No one figured she’d actually be doing this when she was sent to AFRICOM.

In thinking how far we’ve come, I’m again reminded of a long-ago Bill Murray bit on “Saturday Night Live.” We were re-instituting registration for the Selective Service and, this being the era of the ERA, some were proposing making women sign up, too. (It ultimately never happened.) Murray allowed that it was a swell idea and that, in fact, we should draft only women. That way, if we got into war with the Soviets and lost, we could rub their noses in their getting beaten by “a bunch of women.” Conversely, if we lost, we could just say, “Big deal. So you beat a bunch of women.”

FILED UNDER: Africa, Gender Issues, Military Affairs, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    Muammar will appreciate that she is a blond. (Maybe that’s the joke.)

  2. Boyd says:

    You sexist basterd, you!

  3. Susannah says:

    I think it’s horrendous that someone with a doctorate in political science and a high-flying career engages in such casual sexism.

  4. Alva says:

    This has got to be one of the most superfluous articles I’ve read in a while. You seem to be fine with the idea of supporting humanitarian goals and human rights issues in Libya, while having trouble accepting that women’s rights are, in fact, human rights. It is a disgrace that General Woodward has to put up with sexism and bullying from within her own ranks. It illustrates nicely why she got the job, rather than someone with your frame of mind. Instead of wasting time looking down her nose, she is probably busy doing her job.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Susannah /strong>: The point of the Murray joke is how far we’ve come in the last 30 years.

    @Alva: I’m not sure how the two are related but actually oppose military intervention in Libya. I’m not sure that commanding the air war is somehow a “human right” but have no doubt that Woodward, a qualified pilot who has risen to general officer rank, is qualified to lead it. But the piece really offers no judgment on that issue.