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Brig. Gen. Jill Lannan ’85 (right) with Brig. Gen. (Ret.) John Tuohy, former assistant adjutant general for Air, Washington National Guard,

Alumni Profile/General Concludes 35-Year Career

She’s the first female SNC graduate to earn the rank of general, but Brig. Gen. Jill Lannan ’85 originally had no intention of joining the military.

During her sophomore year, she enrolled in a free ROTC course. Following that, she signed up for a six-week camp at Fort Knox, Ky. “I was told I had leadership potential and was offered a two-year ROTC scholarship,” she says. “I thought it would bug me forever if I didn’t do it.”

Thirty-five years later, she has retired as brigadier general, a senior ranking.

Her rise through the ranks wasn’t always as expected. When she was encouraged to apply for a detachment commander position in the Air National Guard of Washington state, she needed to get two waivers approved by higher-ups: one because she wasn’t a pilot; the other because she was a woman.

“That was my first experience where the process really didn’t make sense to me,” she says. “I ended up getting the position.” Following, she was promoted to squadron commander and then to wing commander – and she began to see how her journey could inspire others.

“I realized what a responsibility I had to other young soldiers and airwomen,” Lannan says. “It was such an honor to earn the rank of general. If you had told the 17-year-old that she would become a general, she never would’ve dreamed it.”

Living up to the leadership potential she was told about when she was younger, Lannan learned being a leader isn’t always about discipline or giving orders. For her, it was more about the in-between moments.

“Male airmen, at least in my experience, felt far more comfortable being vulnerable with me than had I been a male,” she explains. “Sometimes people need you to be human. Be tough when you have to, and compassionate when it’s needed of you.”

As she enters retirement, it was leading men and women that she found most rewarding. “Thirty-five years was a long, wonderful journey,” she says. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Lannan shared words of wisdom with the SNC Class of 2020 as Commencement speaker. She wasn’t able to address the graduates in person because the ceremony was streamed virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, Lannan felt it was an honor to be selected to speak at her alma mater.

“It really was a full-circle culmination of my adult life,” she says. “The fact that I started at St. Norbert when I was 17, joined the Army when I was 21, retired 35 years later and then ended up on that campus where it all began. It really was like divine intervention.”

Lannan, pictured above with Brig. Gen. (Ret.) John Tuohy, former assistant adjutant general for Air, Washington National Guard, plans to walk the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), a pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle St. James in Galicia, Spain. She also hopes to use her French and Spanish expertise to substitute teach. For now, she’s happy getting outdoors in Washington state hiking, biking and running, and cuddling her miniature pinscher, Roxie, and her new golden retriever puppy, Tootsie.

Jan. 15, 2021