Females in the Fight

Retired Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager’s Trailblazing Legacy and Life of Service

Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager at desk with pen.

by Elizabeth Phillips
California Military Department Public Affairs

Mar. 19, 2024

SACRAMENTO, Calif. –In a world where heroes are often defined by their courage and unwavering commitment, retired Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager stands out as a beacon of inspiration. Her story isn’t just about reaching impressive ranks but about a journey filled with determination, leadership, and a profound sense of duty.

Path to Greatness

Yeager’s illustrious career would span more than three decades, sending her on a path filled with historic achievements and the breaking down of gender barriers. In 2017, she became the first female to command Joint Task Force North, part of the United States Northern Command. In 2019, she made history again, becoming the first female to command an infantry division — a sizable formation of warfighters, generally numbering between 10,000 and 15,000.

Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager visits with Soldiers at Fort Hunter Liggett, California

Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager visits with Soldiers at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, on Aug. 19, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katie Grandori)

Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager visits with Soldiers at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, on Aug. 19, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Katie Grandori)

Yeager’s career began in 1983 when she enrolled in a southern California ROTC program to help pay for college. Finding herself immersed in an environment that introduced her to peers from across the nation, she became enamored with the rigorous discipline and camaraderie that came with her first glimpse of Army life. After that, joining the Army was a ‘follow your bliss’ story, reflects Yeager, “I found the thing I was meant to do,” she said.

The Challenges of Change

However, Yeager’s ascent to greatness didn’t happen overnight, and it came with sacrifice. One of the biggest challenges early in her career was navigating the rigid system of the military with her husband, also active military, and their family. For the Yeagers, balancing both full-time careers with a young family was a tremendous challenge. Yeager recalls striving to do what’s best for everyone, facing a seemingly endless uphill battle.

“As a woman and a mother, you feel guilty when you’re at work and not with your kids, but then you feel guilty when you’re with your kids and not at work. I feel like this [guilt] falls on women more than men,” said Yeager.

Yeager learned that when two people are in a relationship and both serving on active duty, career or family sacrifices must be made. Later, choosing the National Guard over active duty was a decision Yeager made for her family’s well-being.

“I tell people, if you are in a dual military relationship, the national guard is a perfect solution.”

Ascent to greatness

Upon her transition to the California Army National Guard, Yeager always worked with one purpose in mind: service to California. She dedicated her career to nurturing the next generation of leaders, instilling in them the values of integrity, resilience, and camaraderie. It's no surprise then, that Yeager attributes her successes to the teams she had around her.

“I never really thought about how I made history,” muses Yeager, “I just showed up to work every day and tried to make the best things happen. You just have to stay grounded and stay humble.”

Of breaking barriers and carving out a path for future generations of women in the military, “We are constantly shattering glass ceilings,” says Yeager.

Continuing the Mission

Though Yeager has retired, her legacy endures. Today, she continues her service to our state as a volunteer with the Red Cross. Whether responding to natural disasters or aiding military families, her dedication knows no bounds. When a fire happens Yeager’s team is there to help through the immediate crisis.

“Helping the community is in our DNA as guardsmen,” said Yeager.

This story is part of the “Females in the Fight” series that explores the remarkable contributions of women at the California Military Department.

Laura Yeager volunteers with the American Red Cross