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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Second female AFROTC commander at St. Joe’s

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Shirley is the second woman to be the commander of the AFROTC at St. Joe’s. Photo Courtesy of: SJU AFROTC

For the second time in the program’s nearly 70 year history, a woman has been named commander of the U.S. Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) at St. Joe’s, which has been at the university since 1951.

Lt. Col. Brandy Shirley took over the program last May. The only other woman to head the program was Lt. Col. Joan Fournier, who retired in 2011.

“I’m excited to be here, my family is excited to be here, and Philly is working out well for us,” Shirley said.

The students who participate in AFROTC at St. Joe’s are part of Detachment 750, one of 145 detachments in the U.S. that directly commissions cadets to active duty after they graduate. St. Joe’s hosts the program for 61 students from 24 area colleges and universities who are interested in becoming officers in the Air Force.

Shirley grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, graduating in 2001 from the University of Tennessee Knoxville with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She initially joined the Air Force to get military experience to boost her application to the FBI, but stayed on, traveling  all over the U.S., and the world.

In addition to serving as a military advisor in Tikrit, Iraq, Shirley commanded an intelligence squadron from 2014 to 2016 in Yongsan, South Korea. Before moving to Philadelphia in May, she was chief of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations (ISR) in Ramstein, Germany.

After living overseas for nine years, Shirley said she is still getting used to being back in the U.S.

“America has changed in a decade,” Shirley said. “I definitely have a different perspective having lived in Asia and Europe, seeing their perspective of America and how sometimes those perspectives don’t always line up.”

Shirley and her family also had to navigate the move to Philadelphia on their own, though she credits Georgette Caplan, administrative assistant for the program at St. Joe’s, with helping her and her family “get integrated into Philadelphia.”

“Normally when you get a PCS, which means a permanent change of station, you usually have a base a whole infrastructure to support you, all sorts of services to help you get integrated into the new area,” Shirley said. “Here we didn’t have that as a family, so I didn’t know what neighborhoods to look at to live in or to not live in or the good school district over bad, all of that. Fortunately I had a good real estate agent and Georgette.”

In addition to commanding the detachment, Shirley is teaching as a professor of aerospace studies in the AFROTC program.

“It is a different mission, not saying it is any less busy but it is a different kind of busy,” Shirley said. “Like in my previous job, I managed [a] third of the department of Defense Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft for Europe and Africa. It is a nice tempo change.”

One of Shirley’s goals as commander is to make life less stressful for all of the cadets traveling to St. Joe’s from other colleges and universities.

“We try to keep those cadets on campus as little as possible due to traffic and other travel complications,” Shirley said. “They come for this semester one day a week. I am trying to break it up into the spring where I can use an online program to shorten class time and their reasons to travel, which would lighten the load for many students.”

Tyler Boucher ’23, who comes from a family with a strong military background, said he has enjoyed working with Shirley so far.

“Just observing her and how she handles herself, she exudes confidence,” Boucher said, “You can just tell she is a great leader.”

Stephen Postupak ’23 said he is happy to be a part of the program and working with Shirley.

“No matter what grade you are in, freshman, senior, she will treat everyone in the same manner,” Postupak said.

Shirley said the military has been a great career for her as a woman, as she has developed the leadership skills her students have noted.

“Compared to my civilian counterparts, I get paid the exact same as my male counterparts for their rank grade and time in service,” Shirley said. “For promotion I have never felt like have not gotten promoted based upon the fact that I am a woman.”

For the approximately 18 women in St. Joe’s program who might be looking to Shirley as a mentor, Shirley herself notes that her predecessors have paved the way.

“I am definitely thankful for the women that came before me,” Shirley said.

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