A brigadier general who led Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq will become the first woman to lead an Army infantry division.

Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager will assume command of the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division in ceremonies later this month at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.

“I think it’s an exciting time for the California National Guard,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma told USA TODAY. “She’s been a battalion commander, a brigade commander and now a division commander. She’s earned it.”

Yeager, taking the reins from retiring Maj. Gen. Mark Malanka, will take charge of a force of more than 10,000 soldiers.

She began active-duty service in 1986 after receiving her commission as a second lieutenant from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at California State University Long Beach. She completed military helicopter training in 1989 and then served as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter aeromedical evacuation pilot.

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Yeager, who left active duty after eight years when her first son was born, later continued her military career in the California Army National Guard.

In 2011, she deployed to Iraq as the deputy commander of the Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade. She was promoted to brigadier general three years ago and began making history a year later when she was named as the first woman to lead Joint Task Force North with Northern Command at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Yeager, whose father is a retired major general, said then that she joined the military to make money for college.

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

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The 40th Infantry Division has a rich history. Founded in 1917, its soldiers have fought in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. More recently, 40th ID soldiers have deployed to Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and numerous other locations around the globe. In March, the division headquarters returned to U.S. soil after successfully completing a train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan.

Now its leadership falls to Yeager.

“She’s an outstanding leader, and many of her subordinates who worked with her in the past are looking forward to working with her again,” Shiroma said.

Contributing: David Burge, El Paso Times

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