The year was 1993, and Lisa Hou was a 22-year-old medical student at what was then the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, now integrated into Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. She and a classmate were doing a research project on helicopter pilots and their training, and as part of the project, they took a ride in a New Jersey Army National Guard Bell UH-1 Iroquois—better known as a Huey—at Ewing, New Jersey. It was Hou’s first time in a helicopter.
“It was phenomenal,” she said. “We rode with the doors open and it was an exhilarating experience.”
That helicopter ride prompted Hou to sign up for the National Guard, which she now says is the best decision she ever made. Almost 30 years later, she is the Adjutant General for New Jersey—the chief administrative officer for the 8,400 personnel in the New Jersey National Guard. She is the first woman and first Asian American to serve in the role.
A lot happened in the years between that helicopter ride and Hou’s appointment as Adjutant General by Governor Phil Murphy in 2021. After joining the National Guard, Hou went on to finish her medical degree, then served as a field surgeon in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq from 2005 to 2006, she provided emergency medical care for coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians and maintained medical readiness for mass-casualty trauma.
In Afghanistan in 2011, she was the sole medical provider on an Afghanistan National Army base and performed emergency medical care for more than 600 coalition soldiers, contractors, and foreign nationals. She earned the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and several other military honors. In 2021 she was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
In addition to her appointment as Adjutant General, she’s also commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; in that role she manages all state veterans’ programs, commissions, and facilities. The transition from active service to administration prompted Hou to pursue an M.B.A. from Rutgers–Camden, which she completed in May.
“What I’ve learned about the components of business management will help me contribute my utmost to strong financial management and stewardship of my organizations’ resources,” Hou said. “I want my organizations to have strong financial foundations for readiness, modernization, development, and reform, well beyond my tenure.”
In many ways, Hou has followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was a physician and a two-star Army general. He inspired her, and she hopes that her work will, in turn, inspire others.
“If you reach a little further, if you push yourself a little harder, you can go farther,” Hou said. “You can inspire those around you to do the same, and you can open doors for the next generations.”