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Col. Deaner

Wofford in the military: Col. Loretta Deaner '83

The best she can be

Col. Loretta Woods Deaner ’83, now retired, vividly remembers the be-all-you-can-be U.S. Army recruiting commercials from when she was a teenager.

“When they said, ‘We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day,’ I knew it was the career for me. Since high school, my goal was to serve in the Army.”

Deaner did just that. She participated in ROTC at Wofford and received her commission in 1983. Assigned to the Corps of Engineers, she spent most of her career stateside. First at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, her duty stations included Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Riley, Kan.; Southern University, New Orleans, La.; Fort McPherson, Ga.; Fort Riley, Kan.; the Army Engineer School, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.; and Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. 

“One high point of my career was to be assigned as the first woman commander of a combat engineer unit in Puerto Rico,” she says. “We deployed in support of Iraqi Freedom in 2003.”

In 2007, while assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Deaner was diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned to the Pentagon to receive medical treatment from the Bethesda Navy Medical Center. Deaner continued to serve until her final Army assignment in the Reserve as the director of installation management back at Fort Belvoir, where it all started.

“I’m a survivor!” she says referring to her battle with breast cancer, but Deaner’s story shows that she’s been preparing for that role her whole life.

Deaner came from a loving and strong family with humble means. She didn’t have many family role models who had gone to college or pursued careers in the military, but she knew that both paths would lead her to economic security and a fulfilling life.

As one of the early residential women students to attend Wofford and a minority student, the road was challenging.

“During my years at Wofford, black students didn’t really have a support system,” she says. “It was very difficult, and I learned that I had to toughen up, but that was par for the course in the military.” 

Deaner found herself in the minority again in the Army Corps of Engineers. She started out in topographic and cartographic engineering before moving to combat heavy engineer assignments. She served the second half of her career assigned to senior staff positions and focused on military facilities.

“My first assignment in the Army was not easy. Women were not accepted, and my boss didn’t accept me. If not for the people I worked with, I wouldn’t have made it,” she says. “By my sixth year in the military, I finally began to feel comfortable wearing the uniform.”

Deaner was the only woman in her Engineer Officer Advanced Course. “Even after a decade in the military, I still faced the disbelief that very few women were in the Engineer branch. As the years went on, however, things started to change. More women were assigned and remained in the Corps of Engineers.” “I knew the person I was,” she says.

“I knew as long as I was strong on the inside, nothing could touch me. Being broken was not an option.”

Regardless of where she was stationed, Deaner also found opportunities to become involved in the lives of children in need of extra support. She mentored youth while she was at Wofford and continued to do so while she served in the Army. During the early years of her career, she volunteered as a Big Sister. Later, she became a guardian ad litem. After retirement, she started a nonprofit to assist youth who had been in the foster care system. She lives a busy lifestyle, but is never too busy to help a child. As she works on a doctorate degree at the University of Maryland University College, Deaner continues to help at-risk youth. Last year she adopted a baby, Aiden. He had been living on the streets with his homeless mother.

Although now retired, Deaner still lives that 1970s Army commercial.

“Now,” she says, “I’m trying to be the best mom I can be."

By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89