Wheels Up: Guarding America

Commander of Logistics Lt. Col. Edith O’Bryan, MA ’00 didn’t consider herself a pioneer when she enlisted in the Illinois Air National Guard after graduating from East Peoria Community High School. Sharing that her great-great-grandfather was a colonel in the militia, she said she was raised in a patriotic family and ultimately “fell in love with the military and made it my career.” 

Despite music and cross country scholarship offers, O’Bryan decided to serve her country while attending college. Starting as a reservist, a traditional guardsman, O’Bryan went active duty Guard in 1996. A business major, once she graduated from Northern Illinois University, she was commissioned a lieutenant and has served as Chief of Supply, Director of Personnel, Forces Support Commander, Medical Administrative Officer and Logistics Squadron Commander.

“In the 1980s, the Peoria base was about one-third female, but careers for women in the military are expanding,” O’Bryan said with pride. “Opportunity in our Wing has improved thanks to Wing Commander Col. William Robertson ’83. He doesn’t believe in gender differences: If you qualify, your gender is not a factor. The 182nd Airlift Wing/Air Force promotes equal opportunity. Females are in command positions. We have a female attorney, comptroller and base civil engineer in addition to female mechanics, aircrew and firefighters.”

“I am a logistician — a planner — so the Bradley curriculum was eye-opening. I was challenging myself in a completely different career field.”

— Lt. Col. Edith O’Bryan, MA ’00

Today, as the commander of the 182nd Logistics Readiness Squadron of the 182nd Airlift Wing at the Peoria Air National Guard base, she leads 120 reservists and full-time Illinois Air National Guard members. Without supplies, fuel, vehicles, aerial delivery and more, pilots could not fly their missions. O’Bryan is responsible for logistics plans and programs, contingency operations, distribution/material management, fuels management, traffic management, vehicle management and aerial port operations.

Due to the variety of roles within her squadron, each day is different. “I could be working on a budget, reviewing inventories or resolving a drop-zone issue in just one morning,” she remarked. “I may learn something technical or resolve a personnel issue, prepare for an audit or write a new policy. My position is challenging, energizing and educational.”

With a lifelong interest in education, administration and business, O’Bryan decided in the late ’90s to earn her master’s degree in human service administration at Bradley. “I am a logistician — a planner — so the Bradley curriculum was eye-opening. I was challenging myself in a completely different career field.” She found the direct counseling courses most beneficial, noting that many military members have personal and professional problems, adding, “the skills I attained through Bradley’s master’s program have served me on countless occasions.”

Touring the Base

O’Bryan exuded a sense of calm and confidence as she described her duties during a tour of the expansive Peoria base. For example, in one warehouse alone, she signs for about $84 million annually in equipment such as aircraft radar domes and components, weapons and mobility gear for chemical warfare drills.

“The Guard belongs to the governor of Illinois, but we also belong to the president of the United States, so we have a dual mission. We can respond rapidly to a terrorist threat or a humanitarian mission such as a hurricane response with 1,272 reservists. Sometimes, our humanitarian missions take us to developing countries such as Haiti where we supply medicine, food and water. Right now, we have airmen deployed to two locations in the Middle East.”

The aerial delivery area of the base is where loads are rigged and parachutes are packed to keep aircraft navigators and load masters proficient at their jobs. Large cargo aircraft at the base — C-130s — are capable of airlifting 10,000 pounds of cargo as massive as Humvees, boats, road graders or tractors. “Any type of supplies, food, water and medicine can be airdropped,” O’Bryan added. “We conduct some out-of-the-ordinary missions at this busy base.”

(From left) Lt. Col. Edith O’Bryan, MA ’00 with subordinates Chief Master Sgt. Dave McMullin and 1st Lt. Kate Gualdoni. The 182nd Logistics Readiness Squadron provides aerial delivery equipment to meet the training requirements of aircraft navigators and load masters. Shown is a Type V platform with two G-12 cargo parachutes and an extraction parachute. This type of load is used to simulate airdropping equipment into austere locations to support troops on the ground.

Deployment Challenges

Deployed numerous times during her 28-year military career, O’Bryan explained that the Guard must maintain “readiness posture.” Leadership must ensure that reservists are trained and ready — “physically, mentally and spiritually.” She added, “Deployments can be challenging, rewarding and, at times, difficult.” For example, she served in the Middle East for seven months — her most unusual mission. She served primarily with the Army, specifically the Special Operations-PSYOP (Psychological Operations) unit. Often, she was the commander-in-charge of the unit and had to learn the specifics of the mission very quickly.

“I have seen many sad situations in my deployment, and they never leave my mind; it can be horrific,” she admitted. “Often it’s a new environment, culture and way of life, but I would do it again in a second. We do so much good globally. Our civil engineers show people how to build roads and make clean, fresh water. We provide vaccinations and teach proper hygiene and nutrition. We do so much humanitarian work while we are deployed. We do all we can to help.”

O’Bryan is a private pilot, and her husband, George, is a retired C-130 Air Force pilot who now flies a jet in the civilian sector. She is a member of the National Guard Association of Illinois, the Logistics Officer Association, the Reserve Officers Association, the Academy of Military Science Alumni Association and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

In a career where she could find herself typing logistics memos one day and in a hostile environment facing chemical warfare the next, O’Bryan characterized herself as a lifelong learner who understood the potential risks when she took her oath. “Learning doesn’t stop when you attain a certain rank; we are all learning every day,” she noted. “Many have sacrificed their lives for our freedom, and I want to serve my country accordingly.”

— By Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97
Photography by Duane Zehr