“It was about timing considerations, not that they were women,” said Mr. Miller, who served as acting defense secretary for nearly three months, in an interview.
Had Mr. Trump won re-election, officials said, General Milley would most likely have sent the recommendations to the White House for approval, hoping for the best. But the general and Mr. Esper thought the personnel choices faced a smoother selection process under a new Biden administration.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Austin could always pick other candidates, but Mr. Esper and General Milley were confident the new team would endorse their selections, who had been vetted and evaluated over several months.
Col. Dave Butler, the spokesman for General Milley, declined to comment for this article.
General Van Ovost is already a four-star officer, leading the Air Force’s Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Of the 43 four-star generals and admirals in the United States military, she is the only woman. A seasoned commander and Air Force Academy graduate, General Van Ovost’s pick as head of the multiservice Transportation Command, also located at Scott Air Force Base, played to her strengths, officials said.
General Richardson is the three-star commander of the Army component of the Pentagon’s Northern Command, based in San Antonio, which is playing an important role in providing military assistance to FEMA’s Covid vaccination program.
“Very capable, great team builder,” Anthony R. Ierardi, a retired commander of the Army’s First Cavalry Division, where General Richardson was a subordinate, said in an email. “Gets things done.”