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Distinguished alum, veteran to receive honorary degree from University of Montana

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Colleen McGuire

Colleen McGuire, a University of Montana alum who had a historic 32-year military career, is receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from UM.

Born and raised in Missoula, Colleen McGuire is adding another prestigious honor in retirement to her already impressive resume.

McGuire will be presented with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the University of Montana’s fall commencement ceremony. It will be her second degree from the university after she earned her undergraduate degree from the School of Journalism in 1979. She also has two master's degrees.

In addition to her academic accolades, McGuire had a historic 32-year military career — she was the first woman from Montana to rise to the rank of brigadier general, as well as the first woman ever to serve as provost marshal general of the U.S. Army.

She was the first female commander of the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command, as well as the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

“Brig. Gen. McGuire had an unparalleled, pioneering career in the U.S. Army," said UM President Seth Bodnar. “She is an example of exceptional leadership, service and dedication. Beyond her impressive career and numerous awards, she is a true Montanan, having retired to her home state. We are thrilled to present an honorary doctorate to this valuable member of our UM family.”

The Montana University System’s governing body, the Board of Regents, approved UM’s recommendation in September to present McGuire with the honorary degree, and to this day she still isn’t sure who nominated her to begin with.

UM often honors distinguished individuals with honorary degrees after a careful review and approval by university officials. Those considered for the honor generally have a connection to Montana. Following the initial review, the nominator must submit a full application, which includes the nominee's curriculum vitae and supporting letters.

McGuire was completely unaware she was being considered for the degree until Bodnar and Reed Humphrey, UM’s acting provost, called to inform her they were recommending her to the Board of Regents.

“It’s a surprise and it’s a great honor,” McGuire said. “It’s the university’s opportunity to recognize professional work that gives credit not only to the individual that did the work, but it also reflects a lot of the University of Montana, which was such a huge part of my life.”

Both of McGuire’s parents were students at the university, and she recalled going to classes with her dad when she was in middle school. She got her first job on campus at 15 years old, where she worked with psychology professors who distributed tests and published psychological journals.

During her time as an undergraduate student she also served as a student leader in ROTC, was a cheerleader, played rugby, and was a member of the Delta Gamma sorority.

Her experience with the university helped prime her for success in the military and beyond.

“I was always allowed to explore and make mistakes … I was always able to push the envelope a little bit,” McGuire said. “I would take calculated risks just to see how far I could go.

“Sometimes I would get burned, sometimes it would work out,” she continued. “I always felt safe and confident that I could do most anything.”

During her time in the Army, McGuire was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal and Bronze Star, among many others. In 2010 she was the recipient of UM’s Distinguished Alumni Award. She was inducted into the Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame in 2019.

Her last position with the military was at the Pentagon, where she worked as director of manpower and personnel on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After she retired from the military in 2012, she began working for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel by assisting him with the study of sexual assault response systems in the Army. She now lives in Kalispell and owns a cattle ranch in eastern Oregon.

“Her ability to manage and lead large organizations, whether in peacetime or combat operations, is without comparison,” wrote Maj. Gen. John Meyer Jr. in his recommendation letter for McGuire. “Colleen is, without reservation, a credit to everything the University of Montana represents.”

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