Loyola University Chicago

Commencement

Cynthia A. O'Connell

College of Arts & Sciences

Cynthia A. O’Connell

Brigadier General, United States Army (Ret.), Health Care Executive, Educator

Candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters

Brigadier General Cynthia O’Connell (Ret.) (BS ’81) completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at Loyola University Chicago in 1981. She was a member of Loyola’s ROTC program, one of only two women in her commissioning class that same year. BG O’Connell went on to earn a Master in Healthcare Administration from Golden Gate University, completing her residency at Tahoe Forest Hospital, CA, and is a board-certified fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives. She also holds a Master in Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College and is one course away from receiving a Master in Education from Boston University.

During the past 35 years, BG O’Connell has been a health care administrator, a military officer, and a civilian educator. Serving in both active and reserve components, BG O’Connell served in medical and infantry units, as well as hospital and field assignments. She was one of the earliest female army officers to command a medical company in an infantry division and the first female army officer to command a combat support hospital on a forward operating base in Afghanistan. Although she does not define herself as a feminist or a woman leading the way for other women in the military, she has nonetheless taken on that role due to her many accomplishments and achievements. BG O’Connell is also the first female reserve officer from the Medical Service Corps to serve as a general officer.

BG O’Connell’s honors and awards are numerous and include the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, the National Defense Service Medal with one bronze star, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with four mobilization devices, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Expert Field Medical Badge, and more. She is also the recipient of the Order of Military Medical Merit and two Meritorious Unit Citations.

BG O’Connell considers it a sacred duty to care for soldiers. In 2008, she commanded the Salerno Hospital/349th Combat Support Hospital in Afghanistan, caring for more than 4,000 admissions with a 99 percent survival rate. BG O’Connell says her time in Afghanistan was one of the most “profoundly personal and professionally fulfilling” times of her life. Despite facing the very real dangers of combat, she says she would serve again “in a heartbeat.” There she made lifelong friendships with the Afghan-trained physician-linguists who were her partners in the care of her civilian patients. Extending her tour, she served as the director of health sector development in multiple eastern Afghanistan provinces, where she assisted the Afghan people in re-establishing their fledgling national health care system.

BG O’Connell credits her parents for laying a critically positive foundation—modeling self-reliance, character, and ethics—and stressing education, patriotism, and the importance of family. They supported her decision to attend Loyola and join the ROTC program. Raised by her father, who was an Irish immigrant, BG O’Connell was the first in her family to attend and graduate from a university.

Retired in 2016, BG O’Connell plans to return to health care leadership and serve her community through the Veteran’s Administration or as an educator in academia.