Air officer commanding leads cadets to new heights

  • Published
  • By Gino Mattorano
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Air Force leaders have said that diversity makes our nation and the Air Force stronger, and one Air Force Academy instructor lives that truth every day.

Maj. Elaine Bryant is the Air Officer Commanding for Cadet Squadron 24, where she's responsible for developing and mentoring cadets to be officers of character.

In this position, Bryant fills the role of commander, mentor, cheerleader and sometimes even surrogate mom. The 2000 Academy graduate relishes the unique challenges the job provides, and credits her success to her family and the training she received at the Academy and in her Air Force career.

Bryant was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to Orlando, Fla., before her first birthday, where she lived until coming to the Academy's Preparatory School in 1995. Since both of her parents spoke Spanish as well as English, Bryant and her siblings grew up bilingual, but otherwise didn't feel much different from the other Caucasian children she grew up with.

"Growing up, we spoke Spanish at home, and spoke English in public," Bryant said. "We visited Puerto Rico regularly, and our parents taught us about our culture and background, but the thing I remember most was their focus on education. They were hard workers and taught us the value of hard work and education. My dad always said that as long as he was alive, we wouldn't have to pay for school."

Ironically, Bryant chose the Air Force Academy, where her education was paid for. The work ethic and education focus she learned from her parents helped her excel as a cadet, earning a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering.

Prior to tackling the AOC job, Bryant taught aeronautical engineering here at the Academy, and Bryant continues to excel as an Air Force officer. She recently received the National Latina Symposium Distinguished Service Award for 2011.

According to the award citation, she was recognized, in large part, for developing the Academy's first-ever Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Educator workshop. Despite limited funding and resources, Bryant worked with local school districts to develop, promote and execute a two-day workshop to motivate and teach educators techniques for more effective science, engineering and math instruction.

"Elaine's enthusiasm and professionalism are contagious and the both cadets and her peers feed off of that energy," said Lt. Col. Colin Tucker, who was Bryant's Aeronautics Department supervisor. "Her educator workshop efforts multiplied our impact in the community by getting talented teachers better prepared to teach STEM topics in the classroom."

The citation further highlighted that Bryant was key to promoting science and engineering to students of all backgrounds, particularly to female Hispanics. And she managed those accomplishments while continuing to excel at teaching.

"Elaine is a spectacular instructor," Tucker said. "Her leadership really shined through when, in her feedbacks, a cadet wrote that she was 'the kind of officer I want to be!' Elaine really took the time to be with the cadets and was, and is, a committed role model and leader."

As an instructor turned AOC, Bryant soon saw a need for more collaboration between the academic departments and the cadet squadrons. She approached that challenge like she approaches everything else in life - head on.

"I wanted instructors to have a better understanding of cadet life, so I invited faculty to join with cadets at lunch and in the squadron to see the daily turmoil outside the classroom," Bryant said.

Eventually, word about the collaboration reached Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, the commandant of cadets, who was also developing a vision for partnership across mission elements. He liked the idea so much, he asked her to bring the program to the rest of the cadet wing, with one suggestion - include the Athletic Department.

Bryant quickly sold the idea to the rest of the Cadet Wing, Dean of Faculty and the Athletic Department, and now the mission partner initiative, as it has come to be known, gives cadets more exposure to other mission elements.

"Our goal is to encourage increased respect, understanding, and awareness of mission partners," Bryant said. "This program helps show cadets how we work together as a team here at the Academy, and it provides an opportunity for cadets to interact, who otherwise wouldn't."

Lt. Col. Chris Gough, Bryant's current supervisor and Commander of Cadet Group 3, expressed his approval for Bryant's devotion to her duties and the cadets.

"Elaine is an extraordinary leader," Gough said. "She has taught advanced aeronautics, commanded a cadet squadron and spearheaded the mission partner initiative to bring together elements of all mission partners in support of our cadets. Her vision, creative brand of leadership and tenacity make her a tremendous force of good in our cadets' development as leaders of character."

And through it all, Bryant continues to look for ways to excel.

"My parents taught me to always do my best," Bryant said. "If you work hard, everything else will fall into place."