NEWS | Oct. 26, 2017

Brigadier general from Fountain Valley is a female trendsetter

By Greg Mullen, Orange County Register

(October 19, 2017) -- It's a good bet most members of the Fountain Valley High Class of 1982 didn’t expect to have a general in their midst when they met in August this year for their 35th reunion.

But there was Laura Yeager nee Brandt letting her hair down with her friends.

Few, least of all Yeager, saw this coming when she was a kid growing up.

“I think some of them were surprised,” said Yeager, who recently entered her third week as commander of the Joint Task Force North in Texas. “They’ve known me since grade school. One said, you used to hit me all the time with a purse.”

Since entering the Army as an officer, when that was still rare for women, she has been knocking down barriers. And not with a purse, but with a resume and skill set that most officers would envy.

On Sept. 29, Yeager became the first woman to take the helm of the Joint Task Force North at Fort Bliss, a drug interdiction and border and homeland security force.

When Yeager was promoted to brigadier general in March 2016, she became one of only two female generals in the California National Guard, and one of only four in California Guard history.

It wasn’t until 2008 that Ann Dunwoody became the first four-star general in the Army, so there hasn’t been much of a road map for women like Yeager to follow.

Yeager also is an aviator and Black Hawk pilot with a Bronze Star, who served in Iraq as deputy commander, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Now she is happy to be the kind of model that didn’t really exist when she was a child.

“For any person, you have to see it, to be it,” she said.

With other women contemporaries making their marks, Yeager says the path is opening for women.

“My boss’s boss is a four-star general and a woman,” said Yeager, adding that she thinks gender is becoming a non-issue.

“I’d like to think they don’t even notice or think about it on a daily basis,” she said of the reactions of the 150 under her command.

Although Yeager downplays her achievements with an easy self-effacement, she has been breaking ceilings ever since she entered the Reserve Officers Training Corps after her freshman year in college as a way to help pay her tuition.

Although she is the daughter of California National Guard Maj. Gen. Robert Brandt, Yeager said she didn’t really consider a military career as a child.

“I am of an age where, as a young girl, most of the women I saw were secretaries, nurses and flight attendants,” she said.

About her dad, she says, “He’s definitely been a mentor to me. He was away for awhile when I was in college and I think he was as surprised as anyone.”

The retired major general concurs.

“I got a phone call. She said, ‘Guess what?'” said Brandt, recalling when his daughter told him she had joined ROTC. “Usually that’s not the start of a good conversation.”

When he heard, the general recalls asking, “Why did you do that?,” explaining that as a child Yeager had showed little interest in the services.

Despite the seemingly less-than-ringing endorsement, Yeager persevered and dad couldn’t be prouder.

“I often joke that she’s the son I never had,” said Brandt, whose other daughter, Kelly, has been an elementary school teacher for more than 30 years.

Although a self-judged “decent student” in high school, Yeager said the jump to UC Irvine was unexpectedly rigorous. But a summer in cadet training after freshman year changed everything.

“I came home focused and determined and knowing my limitations,” she said. “I credit the Army with making me stronger.”

Yeager said the Army version of limits are not about constraint, but liberating and greater than one may think.

Which may have helped her decide to fly helicopters, or go to Airborne School and learn to jump out of airplanes.

Yeager said she applied to jump school in college because needed a summer job and, well, she really wanted the patch one gets on completion.

Her reasoning for many of the challenges she has taken on is simple.

“If one person can do it, then I can too,” she said.

“She’s tenacious,” Brandt said, telling a story about how his daughter completed parachute school despite a badly sprained ankle. “She was going to graduate, come hell or high water.”

“She won’t give up. When she makes her mind up, it’s going to happen.”

Before moving to Fort Bliss she was director of the Joint Staff at the California Joint Force Headquarters in Sacramento. Yeager’s husband, Dr. Curtis Yeager, and family still reside in the Folsom area.

At Joint Task Force North she commands a staff of about 150 from different branches of service. The task force works with federal agencies fighting drug trafficking and international criminal organizations.

Yeager sees her work at Fort Bliss, fighting the growing drug epidemic, as vital.

“Americans don’t appreciate what’s going on,” she said of the toll of drugs, noting that more than 60,000 people die of drug overdoses in the U.S. annually. “And there is so much coming through.”

Yeager said she still finds it a little hard to believe her success in the Army, saying she would have considered retiring as a colonel as a great success.

“I’ve achieved everything I expected and I am beyond that,” she said.

Looking ahead she says, “I’d still like to be in a position to be promoted. You just have to do the best you can in the job you’re in.”

If Yeager wants it, Brandt said she’ll get it, “When she makes her mind up, it’s going to happen.”