Throughout the National Reconnaissance Office’s history, there were two instances when two female leaders served in the Top 3 at the same time. The Top 3 refers to NRO’s director, principal deputy director, and deputy director—the three highest-ranking positions within the NRO.
The original female dynamic duo was Maj. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski and Betty J. Sapp. Maj. Gen. Pawlikowski became the first female deputy director of the NRO in June 2008. On April 15, 2009, Sapp joined her in the Top 3 as the first female principal deputy director of the NRO. They served in the Top 3 together for 10 months until the Air Force Research Laboratory selected Maj. Gen. Pawlikowski as their first female commander. She continued to break barriers in her 40-year military career, serving as the first female leader of multiple units. She retired as a four-star general Sept. 1, 2018. She currently serves on the Raytheon Company board of directors.
The second dynamic duo was Betty Sapp and Maj. Gen. Susan K. Mashiko. Maj. Gen. Mashiko succeeded Maj. Gen. Pawlikowski as NRO deputy director in February 2010, and she remains the only other female deputy director to date. Sapp continued as principal deputy until she was appointed NRO director in July 2012, making her the first female NRO director. Sapp and Maj. Gen. Mashiko served in the Top 3 for four years. Maj. Gen. Mashiko retired from her 35-year career in July 2014, and was the first Japanese American woman to be promoted to flag rank. On March 9, 2020, Maj. Gen. Mashiko was named to the board of directors of VOX Space, a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit. She also serves on the Space Dynamics Laboratory board of directors at Utah State University.
Sapp continued as the director until she left the agency in April 2019. Sapp remains the only woman to have served as NRO’s principal deputy or director. Sapp currently sits on the board of directors for Ball Corporation, Perspecta, and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc.