First woman takes command at Joint Task Force North at Fort Bliss

By Dave Burge, El Paso Times | Oct. 2, 2017

FORT BLISS, Texas — (October 2, 2017) -- Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager grew up in a military family, but no one really expected her to become a soldier too. 

Yeager, the new commanding general at Joint Task Force North, originally joined the Army to help pay for her college education.

“I walked by one of those recruiting posters and said, ‘I can do that,’” Yeager said. “I think my father (retired Maj. Gen. Robert Brandt) was more surprised than anyone that I joined.”

Yeager, a 53-year-old from Fountain Valley, Calif., has been hooked on Army and military life ever since.

“People complain about some of the things the military makes you do,” said Yeager, an Aviation Branch officer and former Black Hawk helicopter pilot. “To me, it is an adventure.”

Yeager took over as the new commander of Joint Task Force North at Fort Bliss on Friday. She succeeded Maj. Gen. Kurt S. Crytzer, who led the command for the past two years. Crytzer’s next assignment hasn’t been determined yet.

For Yeager, it was a history-making moment. She became the first female commander in the organization’s 28-year history.

But Yeager has never been motivated by trying to be a pioneer or a role model for other women in the military. Instead, she just tries to do the best she can with each job she is given, she said.

“Every once in a while, I’ll be in a meeting and will notice I’m the only woman in the room,” she said. “I realize, ‘Wow, there aren’t that many of us (female generals).’”

Joint Task Force North has a staff of about 150 service members of all branches and civilian employees. The organization provides Department of Defense support to federal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations. Joint Task Force North does not conduct law enforcement activities such as immigration enforcement.

Yeager has served for eight years in the active-duty Army and for 23 years in the California and Texas National Guard. She deployed to Iraq in 2010-11.

Most recently, she served as the director of the Joint Staff for the California Joint Force Headquarters in Sacramento.

At her previous job, California’s counterdrug program was one of many areas that fell under her oversight as director of the Joint Staff.

“As a result, I already know a lot of the people who do this work,” Yeager said. “I have met many of the people I will be working with."

“I really come into it understanding the mission,” she added.

Her predecessor, Crytzer, “built an amazing staff here” and has the organization going in the right direction, Yeager said.

“I’m not going to change anything,” she said.

At the national level, there is a lot of concern about the opioid drug epidemic, Yeager said.

“Americans are dying at an alarming rate — 59,000 last year, more than the entire Vietnam War,” she said.

“That potentially could lead to additional funding for us to do more to help support our law enforcement partners,” Yeager said.

Yeager had never served at Fort Bliss, but does have Texas ties having been stationed at both Fort Sam Houston and Fort Hood in the past.

She is impressed by how engaged her new command is with the El Paso community. In particular, it has a longstanding relationship with North Loop Elementary School through the Partners in Education program.

“I was pleasantly surprised to find out that is a priority and plan to continue that going forward,” Yeager said.