May 30th, 2019
Debbie O'Bryant had already seen the world as a U.S. Naval officer, raised her family and earned an associate degree in general studies, a bachelor's degree in adult education and a master's degree in aeronautical science--when she decided to go to Jackson State Community College in 2016.
A retired Navy Commander, O'Bryant was working at St. Mary's Church in Camden when she was told by the diocesan accountant that she needed to be able to do an accrual of church finances. She didn't know how, so she enrolled in night classes to earn an associate degree in business in office technology.
She found that life at Jackson State was different from what she had experienced at other colleges. "Everyone was friendly," O'Bryant said. "The students were kind and caring. This was a place where professors cared about the students. The professors will stick with you, encourage you and coach you."
She participated in Jackson State's study abroad program twice: She won the JSCC International Ambassador Scholarship for Scotland 2017 and for Amsterdam/Berlin/Paris in 2018.
She finished her coursework for her associate degree in December. Her life experiences made her a non-traditional college student in many ways.
Born in England, O'Bryant grew up in Staten Island and Mt. Hope, New York. Her dad was in the Air Force; her mom was a nurse. O'Bryant joined the Navy in 1978 and rose through the ranks to Commander before retiring in 2010.
Commander O'Bryant holds a couple of firsts. She was the first woman, Aviation Maintenance Duty Officer TAR to become a detailer/community manager. She was also the first woman Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Officer (AIMD), TAR and served as the Department Head of the AIMD, Naval Air Station, Atlanta, GA.
Her last deployment was a 13-month stint as the first Navy Liaison Officer in the Office of Military Cooperation in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. She was there when Somali pirates captured Capt. Richard Phillips and took his cargo ship hostage in 2009. She journeyed through the Suez Canal on the USS Eisenhower with Egyptian military officers.
She and her husband, Tom, a retired commander and naval aviator, have one son, Thomas, who is a Lt. Commander Engineering Duty Officer in the Navy. The O'Bryants moved to 100 acres in Carroll County because they had ridden horses in the area and liked the rolling hills of West Tennessee.
O'Bryant has won many awards in her life; her most recent was being named Woman Military Veteran of the Year on April 2 by the Jackson Area Business and Professional Women.
High on Jackson State and what it offers, O'Bryant said, "my husband and I tell everybody to come to Jackson State. This school really prepares young people and adults to succeed at a four-year college. The standards are so high."