Brigadier General Denise Donnell was sworn in on Saturday as commander of the New York Air National Guard, making her the first woman to ever lead the 5,900-person unit.

Connell, a command pilot who served in the Navy between 1993 and 2002, will take over for Major General Timothy LaBarge, who is retiring after more than three decades in the New York Air National Guard. LaBarge had led the aerial unit for four years.

“From COVID to Kabul, New York airmen serve our state and nation at home and overseas every day,” Donnell said in a statement. “Major General Timothy LaBarge has set a high standard for our Air Guard and I look forward to building on the accomplishments of the last four years."

The aerial militia is the largest of any state’s Air National Guard, and has six active bases across New York. It is controlled by New York’s governor, unless federalized by a presidential order. Members have been involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to helping with pandemic response tasks most recently.

Donnell grew up in Clifton Park and is a graduate from Georgetown University and Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base. She has more than 4,400 hours of flying time, including 280 hours in combat, according to a press release.

"This is a proud day in New York to recognize the achievements and leadership skills of a woman who has risen through the ranks to serve as a model of selflessness for all New Yorkers," Gov. Hochul said following a swearing-in ceremony on Saturday. "The National Guard is made up of New York's finest and is always there when crisis calls. I salute Brigadier General Donnell on this promotion and thank Major General LaBarge for his 39 years of service."