NATO’s most senior military women

Inspired by RAF Air Marshal sue Gray becoming the first female three-star General in the UK Armed Forces, we took a look at the most senior women in the military forces of NATO countries and their careers.

US Air Force General Maryanne Miller. Image: US Air Force

In February 2019, Royal Air Force engineer Sue Gray became the first British woman to reach the rank of Air Marshal – a three-star General rank. (Don't miss our Q&A with her in this issue.)

While not all NATO countries have female Generals, air marshals or flag officers, we found that up to 14 countries do have three-star female officers currently serving in their armed forces. The US has had female four-star Generals serving across the army, navy and air force branches, but most of them have recently retired.

Albania: Manushaqe Shehu – Albanian Land Force

Manushaqe Shehu is a Brigadier-General with the Albanian Land Force (ALF), and is currently deputy director of the Albanian General Staff – the highest military structure in the Albanian Armed Forces.

Shehu joined the ALF aged 19 after graduating from the Armed Forces Academy and became an officer in 1984. In 2006, Shehu was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and between 2007 and 2011 worked as a security advisor to former Albanian president Bamir Topi.

In November 2016, Shehu was promoted to Brigadier-General and was appointed head of the Training and Doctrine Command one month later.

Image: Albanian Armed Forces

Belgium: Corinne Faut – Belgium Air Component

Corrine Faut has been a Brigadier-General with the Belgium Air Component since 2014. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy in 1982, Faut became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Air Force in December 2000, and from 2002 to 2008, she worked at the King’s Military Household and supported the former King Albert II in his role as Head

of State.

She became director-general of the Royal High Institute for Defense from 2009-2014, a position held by one of the most important officers in the country.

Faut continues to serve as director-general of the Defence Communications Department since her promotion to Brigadier-General.

Image: Belgian Military

Canada: Christine Whitecross – Royal Canadian Air Force

The first female three-star General in the Canadian Armed Forces, Christine Whitecross has been a Lieutenant-General in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) since May 2015.

Whitecross enlisted into the Canadian Armed Forces in 1982, while studying chemical engineering at Queens University. Her notable positions include commanding officer of the Canadian Joint Task Force (North) from 2006-2008, chief military engineer at the National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa from 2014-2015, and commander at the Military Personnel Command.

Whitecross assumed her current role as commandant of the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, in November 2016. She also heads the Canadian Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct.

Image: Royal Canadian Air Force

Croatia: Gordana Garašić – Croatian Army

Gordana Garašić reached the permanent rank of Brigadier-General in the Croatian Army in 2015 after previously being given the rank on a temporary basis in 2014. She currently serves as deputy director of the international security co-operation mission RACVIAC since July 2016.

Over her career, Garašić has been an adviser to the Croatian delegations to NATO and the European Union, as well as advising the Croatian presidency. In 2010, she served in Afghanistan for six months as head of personal affairs under the NATO-led International Security Peace Force. Soon after, in 2011, she was promoted to Colonel.

Image: Gordana Garašić (Twitter)

Czech Republic: Lenka Šmerdová  – Army of the Czech Republic

Lenka Šmerdová holds two records as the first female Colonel and the first female General in the Army of the Czech Republic, reaching the position of Brigadier-General in 2017.

A member of the Czech Republic Armed Forces since 1984, Šmerdová joined as assistant chief of the Human Resources Group Regiment, later becoming chief in 2000. She has also served as director of the Military Personnel Refilling Department from 2010 to 2013, and chief of the Recruitment Department until 2017, before taking on her current role as an adviser to the chief of the General Staff of the Army of the Czech Republic.

Image: Czech Army

Denmark: Lone Træholt – Royal Danish Air Force

The first female member of the Danish Armed Forces to reach the rank of General, Lone Træholt was promoted to Brigadier-General and head of the Tactical Air Staff on 30 September 2016. She also holds the accolades of being the first woman in the Royal Danish Air Force to reach lieutenant-colonel in 2000, and colonel in 2008.

Previous roles have included chief of staff at Aalborg Air base from 2003 to 2006, chief of planning at the Tactical Air Command in 2007 and chief of the Air Control Wing at Air Base Karup between 2008 and 2011.

Træholt’s international duties include military assistant for the NATO-led Allied Forces Baltic Approaches (1998-2000) and as information operations officer for the UN, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2007-2008).

As of September 2017, Traeholt is one of two female Brigadier-Generals in the Danish Armed Forces. The second – Jette Albinus – became the first woman to reach the rank of General in the Royal Danish Army, and now leads the Danish Home Command.

Image: Flyvevåbnets Fototjeneste /Danish Air Force Photo Service

France: 18 female Generals across the armed forces

According to the Ministère des Armées (DiCOD), there are currently 18 female soldiers currently ranked as Generals in the French Armed Forces: one of which serves in the army, three in the air force, one in the navy, and four in the French police. DiCOD did not disclose more detailed information about them.

Germany: Gesine Krüger – German Armed Forces

Krüger is currently the only two-star General inand one of only two female Generals in the German Armed Forces.

After qualifying as a medical doctor she joined the military in 1987 as an officer and has held various positions in the Bundeswehr's medical services, as well as administrative roles in the defence ministry's medical department. She also served as part of NATO and EU-led peacekeeping forces to Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Bosnian war in 2002-2003 and again in 2007.

Krüger became commander of the medical academy of the German Armed Forces in 2016, taking over from the country's first female two-star General, Erika Franke, who retired from the role and the military at the time.

Image: US Air Force

Greece: three female Generals

In 2001, there were three female Brigadier-Generals in the Greek Armed Forces, according to NATO. However, the Greek Ministry of Defence did not confirm nor deny whether they are still serving.

 Netherlands – Elanor Boekholt-O’Sullivan – Royal Netherlands Air Force

Air Commodore Elanor Boekholt-O’Sullivan has served in the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) since 1994, and completed her training at the Royal Military Academy in Breda.

In 2012, she reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel following a promotion to the position of strategic advisor for the Air Force Commander. Two years later, Boekholt-O’Sullivan was appointed head of the AIR Air Force Innovation Centre, an air force think tank that aims to bring in cultural changes to the RNAF by monitoring and reporting on world developments.

Boekholt-O’Sullivan was promoted again in 2016, this time to the rank of Colonel. Her new position as commander of the Eindhoven Air Base made her the first female flight base commander in the RNAF, and only the second non-pilot commander.

Since July 2018, Boekholt-O’Sullivan has been a general, employed as the commander of the Defense Cyber Command – one of the highest positions in the RNAF. She is responsible for digital defence and cybersecurity activities.

Image: Dutch Ministry of Defence

Norway: Kristin Lund – Norwegian Army

A serving Major-General with the Norwegian Army, Kristin Lund also holds the office of force commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus – the first woman ever to lead a UN peacekeeping force.

Prior to 2014, Lund had served as head of Veteran Affairs for the Norwegian Defence Staff, chief of staff of the Norwegian Home Guard and deputy commander of the Norwegian Army Forces Command.

Major-General Lund also spent time studying at the Norwegian Defence University College and holds a US master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the US Army War College.

Image: Norwegian Government

Slovenia: Alenka Ermenc – Slovenian Ground Force

Alenka Ermenc is a Major-General in the Slovenian Army and the first woman in the Slovenian Armed Forces to reach this rank.

Her military career began in 1991 during the breakup of Yugoslavia, in which she served as a member of the previously named Slovenian Territorial Defence forces that was fighting for independence.

In 2006, Ermenc was appointed the first female commander of the 5 Intelligence and Reconnaissance Battalion, and in 2009 she became head of personnel of the General Staff of the Slovenian Army. In June 2009, Ermenc was deployed to Kosovo as part of the Kosovo Force.

Ermenc was promoted to Major-General in 2018, and became chief of the General Staff five days later – the first woman to hold the position in Slovenia and in NATO.

Image: Bruno Toič, Slovenian Ministry of Defence

UK: Sue Gray – Royal Air Force

Royal Air Force (RAF) engineer Sue Gray was promoted to Air Marshal on 20 February 2019, making her the first female three-star General in the history of the British Armed Forces. This was soon followed by her appointment as director-general of Combat Air at the Defence Safety Authority in March 2019.

Gray started her military career in 1985 as an engineer with the former Women’s RAF, before it merged with the RAF in 1994. Gray was first deployed to Iraq in 1991 with the Support Helicopter Force, serving again in 2003, this time as chief engineer for the Joint Helicopter Force during the Iraq War.

We caught up with Gray at a recent RAF event marking International Women's Day – read our full Q&A here!

Image: Crown Copyright / MOD

US: Maryanne Miller – US Air Force

A four-star General with the US Air Force (USAF) since September 2018, Maryanne Miller leads the Air Mobility Command, which provides global air mobility and is tasked with strategic airlift operations, aerial refuelling, and setting up bare airbases.

Miller has served in the USAF for more than 38 years, starting off as a student of pilot training in 1981 at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. Some of her roles include Chief of Flying Safety, Chief of Strategic Airlift - Reserve Operations, and in 2016, Miller became Chief of the Air Force Reserve – the first woman to reach this position.

Image: US Air Force