Col. Lisa O’Neil, First Woman Colonel Commandant of the LSU Corps of Cadets

May 09, 2023

Col. Lisa O'Neil poses with her father and grandfather

Col. Lisa O’Neil’s Air Force ambitions were stirred in part by her father, Air Force Gen. John Corley, center, and grandfather Col. Donald Wesley Corley, who served as a pilot during World War II and retired at the rank of colonel after 23 years with the Air Force.

– Photo provided by Lisa O'Neil

Col. Lisa O’Neil is third generation Air Force.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I thought I was going to grow up and be an airman,” O’Neil said.

Now she’s the first woman to achieve the rank of colonel at LSU.

“To my knowledge, there have only been two women, including me, that have had the opportunity to serve as the commandant of the LSU Corps of Cadets. And I believe I'm the first female colonel who's been the commandant of the Corps,” O’Neil said. “For me, it's never been about being a woman. It's always been about being an airman, serving in whatever position I've been appointed and doing it to the best of my ability.”

O’Neil’s father and grandfather both served in the Air Force for the majority of their lives. While in college, O’Neil sought out her Air Force commission through ROTC, but didn’t initially tell her family.

“While I was at field training, my father surprised me by showing up for my graduation (after) he found out that I was joining the Air Force, and I guess the rest is history,” O’Neil said.


Once she became a commissioned officer, O’Neil trained to be an intelligence officer at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Her path from there to LSU included many stops along the way.

“Following that assignment, I went to Korea and then Germany. Upon returning to the States, I was stationed in Las Vegas, followed by Virginia. I then went back to Las Vegas, again to Germany, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., to Las Vegas for a third assignment, and then found my way here,” she said. “I have been fortunate enough to have three separate deployments, all as an intelligence officer. I was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar twice, and then also to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.”

It was during her most recent assignment at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada that she realized she wanted to help future airmen earn their commission.

“I was very excited about the idea of helping cultivate young leaders for the Air Force, people that would have the confidence and skills to step into their new roles and responsibilities on Day One. The best way to do that, in my opinion, was coming to ROTC and a university like LSU,” O’Neil said. “LSU is offering the perfect balance of talent and opportunity. As someone who is now a Baton Rouge and Louisiana resident,  I’d say that it’s wonderful to see the university working so diligently to give back to the community.”

Col. Lisa O’Neil with LSU cadets
Col. Lisa O’Neil in Presidents Day parade
Col. Lisa O’Neil in a military vehicle
Col. Lisa O’Neil with LSU President William F. Tate IV and others.

As detachment commander, O’Neil works closely with students. LSU students can enroll in the Army or Air Force ROTC programs at LSU or cross-enroll in the Navy ROTC program at Southern University.

“Everyone that comes through my office has their individual reason for desiring to serve, and I’m the one that helps them sort through what their priorities are and how they can achieve their goals. It’s very fulfilling to watch someone formulate that plan for themselves and really hone their own sense of self – what it means to be a leader for them and how they can best serve their country,” O’Neil said.

Defense is part of LSU President William F. Tate IV’s Scholarship First Agenda, working to reimagine the defense of the future by building cybersecurity, ROTC, and technical leadership programs that are the best of their kind in the United States. 

“It’s really exciting to be part of a university that is so service oriented. About a year and a half ago when President Tate unveiled his Scholarship First Agenda, we were so excited to see that defense was one of his five priorities,” O’Neil said.

“Obviously as an airman, I believe that it is critically importance to focus on defense, and I think that President Tate has really taken a unique look at drawing from the military heritage and tradition of this university. Our deep roots and service are a passion of many alumni, as well as current students at the university, and he’s extending that into supporting the Department of Defense and the ROTC programs as we work to recruit, train, and develop the most capable leaders. Finally, the new opportunities and partnerships which pursue cybersecurity initiatives are very compelling and exciting for the Joint force.”

O’Neil said she’s proud of the work the university is doing and the students she mentors.

“I would say that this is the best job I've ever had in the Air Force. The opportunity to help folks realize their potential and be the best version of themselves is the most rewarding experience I could have ever imagined, and it's actually been far more rewarding than I thought it would be when I volunteered to come here,” O’Neil said.