Mvskoke Muskogee Creek Indian Nation citizen Lisa L. Bryan said she always saw the door to opportunity as one that could be opened, “If you look at a door and it’s closed, the best thing to do is turn the door knob and just walk through.”
She made that statement after achieving what no other Native American female in the 381-year history of the Army National Guard has achieved – the position of Chief Warrant Officer 5, the highest rank in the Army National Guard Warrant Officer Corps.
CW5 Bryan began her career in the Army National Guard in May of 1986. As an eager 20-year-old, she found herself longing for an opportunity to challenge herself with something new and different. “The most important thing for me was finding an opportunity to grow and do something that was outside of the box to get a skill,” said CW5 Bryan. “Something that I could be really passionate about and that was fun.”
Passion would be a recurring theme throughout CW5 Bryan’s career. She defined finding success as “discovering the driving force of who you are and what you are passionate about.” “[For me,] it was always, ‘what’s next?’ What can you do next, and what can you do to make yourself better?” said CW5 Bryan. Her drive to always find the next challenge propelled CW5 Bryan as she rose through the ranks of the Army National Guard. She ultimately chose to enter Warrant Officer Candidate School and earned an appointment as a warrant officer on Nov. 12, 1999.
“CW5 Bryan brought a quiet yet formidable force of energy wherever she went. Early into our time working together, I accompanied her on a work trip related to a program for which I would assume responsibility in the coming weeks. I immediately took note of her competence, directness and creativity. I came to deeply appreciate her unwavering commitment to deliver excellence to the Soldiers of the Army National Guard.”
-MAJ Robert Perino
CW5 Bryan began her Warrant Officer Career as a Human Resource Technician at the Joint Forces Headquarters of the Oklahoma Army National Guard where she processed the deployment of Soldiers called to duty following the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing. In 2000, she became the Standard Installation and Division Personnel Reporting System chief for the Kansas Army National Guard. In 2010, CW5 Bryan deployed with the 2/34th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Bagram, Afghanistan, where she served as the Officer in Charge of the Joint Visitors Bureau and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs – a position normally held by a lieutenant colonel. She was tasked with the development of activities and events that gave Soldiers a sense of home while on orders in Afghanistan – an assignment CW5 Bryan carried out with enthusiasm. “While I was deployed, it was so important to ensure that those Soldiers were still connected to home,” CW5 Bryan said. “Looking at their faces and seeing them get excited for the things we were doing for them was truly one of my highest points.”
Following her return home from Afghanistan, CW5 Bryan began serving on a Title 10 tour as a member of the Kansas Army National Guard on active duty as a new media integrator for the Guard Strength Division at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia. Under this assignment, CW5 Bryan was responsible for orchestrating the Army National Guard’s nationwide recruiting and retention social media campaign. In this position, she managed the redesign of the www.nationalguard.com website and the development of nine Army National Guard social media pages. She also served as co-manager for the Soldier of Steel recruitment advertisement campaign. The Soldier of Steel campaign was tied to the Warner Bros. blockbuster film “Man of Steel” – part of the superhero film series “Superman.” The Army National Guard partnered directly with Warner Bros. films on the Soldier of Steel campaign, which depicted Citizen-Soldiers changing from everyday city-goers to heroes in uniform, much like Superman. As co-manager of the campaign, CW5 Bryan traveled to Hollywood, Calif., where she worked directly with “Man of Steel” movie director Zack Snyder.
Over the years, CW5 Bryan became recognized within the Army National Guard as a subject matter expert in the areas of data automation processes, social media and recruitment marketing. She was also known for the dedication, passion and commitment she brought to every situation she encountered.
MAJ Robert Perino, a co-worker of CW5 Bryan at the National Guard Bureau, commented on CW5 Bryan’s unshakable commitment to the Army National Guard, “CW5 Bryan brought a quiet yet formidable force of energy wherever she went. Early into our time working together, I accompanied her on a work trip related to a program for which I would assume responsibility in the coming weeks. I immediately took note of her competence, directness and creativity. I came to deeply appreciate her unwavering commitment to deliver excellence to the Soldiers of the Army National Guard.”
Born in Miami, Okla., it could be said that dedication to military service was modeled for CW5 Bryan from the time she was a child. Not only does CW5 Bryan’s Native American tribe, the Muskogee Creek Indian Nation, boast a rich history of military service – to include Medal of Honor recipient LTC Ernest L. Childers who was awarded for his heroism in World War II – she also had several family members who served honorably in the U.S. armed forces. “My Aunt Rachel served in the Women’s Army Corps for the 555th Army Air Force at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, during World War II,” said CW5 Bryan. “She has been a great mentor in my life.” CW5 Bryan had an uncle, Phillip Coon, who also was a decorated World War II veteran. Coon survived the infamous Bataan Death March and persevered through three years as a Japanese prisoner of war. CW5 Bryan also had several cousins who went on to serve in the U.S. military. One cousin, Marine Corps LCpl Hatak-Yuka-Keya Martin Yearby, was killed in action while conducting combat operations in Anbar Province, Iraq. After receiving the news of his death, CW5 Bryan flew to Dover Air Force Base to escort his body. “As a Native American, it is important to us that the body is not left alone. Having a family member there to bring him home meant a lot,” said CW5 Bryan.
The “way of the warrior” is deeply embedded in the Native American culture, and CW5 Bryan said she valued that connection. “Native Americans are grateful for the sacrifices made by our military members and all the great freedoms we have in our country as a result of their service. It is always important to know your history, but more importantly to remember those who have gone before you.”
Before she would receive her final military promotion, CW5 Bryan was diagnosed with cancer. She battled the disease for four years. During that time, true to her nature of steadfast resilience, she never gave in to the disease, and she did not allow others to remain in a place of sorrow for her. LTC Carrie Perez, colleague and friend of CW5 Bryan, recalled the day CW5 Bryan received the news that the cancer had returned. “When she found out the cancer was back for the final time, everyone around her, including the nurse and doctor, was crying. She promptly corrected the room and told them that if anyone should be crying, it should be her. So, they needed to get themselves together. No one gets to be sad around Lisa. It’s just the way she was,” said LTC Perez.
Lisa L. Bryan was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 5 and presented the Legion of Merit by MG Timothy McKeithen at her home in in Woodbridge, Va., on April 28, 2017. She passed away just one month later, on May 30, 2017.
In a speech at her last promotion ceremony CW5 Bryan shared the following sentiments, “These last four years, I’ve been in a difficult struggle. But I did not want my illness to define me. [I wanted to] be a positive force to lift up those around me while making myself stronger.” CW5 Bryan continued, “Being promoted, having the military’s faith and confidence, and seeing that my performance is worthy, exceedingly worthy, of being promoted to CW5, is one of the ultimate high points in my career.”
Across her 31 years of military service, CW5 Bryan received numerous accolades, including the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Legion of Merit. “[CW5 Bryan] had uncommon valor and amazing virtue, even among a population of amazing service members.” said LTC Perez.
In her last weeks of life, CW5 Bryan left a final piece of advice with family and friends, to “live your passion.”
By Staff Writer Chase Whitlock