As a member of the Northglenn Dolphins swim team, Lt. General Laura Richardson said she learned so much that would make her successful in her later life. But it almost didn’t happen. “The first …
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As a member of the Northglenn Dolphins swim team, Lt. General Laura Richardson said she learned so much that would make her successful in her later life. But it almost didn’t happen.
“The first time I tried out for the swim team as a young child, I didn’t make the team, “ she said. “What would have happened if I had stopped trying then, and I was faced with a short setback? I didn’t stop, though, I worked hard all summer and trained and prepared myself for the next tryout.”
Today, she’s the Acting Commanding General of the U.S. Army Forces Command, based out of at Fort Bragg, N.C. It commands all Army Reserve units in the U.S.
Richardson returned to her roots March 4, speaking to a crowd of family, friends and Northglenn notables at the D. L. Parson’s Theater — equal parts celebration of Northglenn’s past on its 50th anniversary and marking March as Women’s History Month.
Richardson has strong ties to Northglenn. A native and Northglenn High School alum, she and her high school swim team still hold records. She graduated from Metropolitan State University in 1986 and then accepted a commission as an Army aviator. She has a masters of science degree from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and was the military aid to former Vice President Al Gore and as Chief of the Secretary of the Army’s liaison division to the U.S. Senate.
She was also the first woman to serve as deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army’s 1st Calvary Division.
She noted that young children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up, but that question stops coming in middle and high school.
“There is more of a focus on achievements of the present — school work, sports, friends, after-school jobs,” she said. “As we grow from childhood to adolescence, do we forget how strong our dreams were or do see how difficult it is to achieve those dreams.”
She called on adults with children in their lives to encourage dreams through high school and into college.
“We must help our youth find their dreams and then connect the pathways to that dream,” she said. “Our young people really need the support of their community. I’m astounded when I look back and realize the sacrifices that my parents and all the parents of the swim team made. I’m also grateful to my swim coaches and teachers. They not only provided the support and inspiration for me to excel in the pool and in school, they also taught me determination and commitment.”
Richardson discussed her path from Northglenn’s swimming teams to the leadership of the U.S. Army, as well as the opportunities for young women in and out of the military. Then she answered questions from a young Junior ROTC Cadet — Northglenn High School senior Gabriella Gomez.
After graduating from Metropolitan State College in Denver, she went to flight school and was assigned to the 17th Aviation Brigade in Korea as a platoon leader. She said she doesn’t think was a model officer at the beginning, but met her Jim Richardson — now a Lieutenant General, but then a Second Lieutenant as well — and began learning how to be a better leader.
“I have been afforded some unique opportunities that really opened the door for me, but it’s never been about what has been presented,” he said. “I’ve worked hard in every position I’ve been served in. Nothing has been handed to me and I have not just been lucky. I’ve earned my place through hard work and learning from my failures.”
The Northglenn native became the first woman to lead the U.S Army Forces Command out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It’s the largest single command in the Army, with an estimated 770,000 soldiers and nearly 100,000 civilians under her scrutiny.
Previously, she had been named the second in command, under Gen. Robert Abrams, in July 2017.
The evening was no pitch to encourage young Northglenn residents to enlist, but she did tout the benefits of community service. The Army provides access to unparalleled opportunity and experience, leadership and learning. She noted that young second lieutenant has massive responsibilities — a command of 40 soldiers and $30 million in equipment.
“That’s a lot of responsibility to have at 22 years old,” she said.
But the military is not the only source. She also touted services like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year and FEMA’s Citizen Corp.
“From the military to civilian service, these opportunities can give you a sense of purpose and the satisfaction of contributing to something larger than yourself,” she said.
Speaking to high school cadet Gomez, she pushed young adults to be quick studies.
“If you try to fit in, that usually doesn’t’ work out,” she said. “You need to be confident about what you do, and that’s tough to do when you starting out. So work your way into it. Learn all you can and be a fast learner because you won’t be new for long. And just be being good and being competent you’ll find you fit in.”
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