CEDARVILLE, OHIO – Originally from Hawaii, Tonya Bailey came to Ohio in 1986 as a high school student. After graduating from the Greene County Career Center and Xenia High School, she started her family at the age of 18 but always dreamed of joining the U.S. military.
Since June of 2000 Bailey has worked at Cedarville University in the financial aid office as the compliance manager. Her job is to review financial aid applications and documentation provided by parents and students to ensure applicants receive as much assistance as possible.
In March of 2007, having spent most of her adult life to that point as a wife and mother, Bailey completed her bachelor’s degree in information technology. A few months later, she wasted no time tackling her next ambition and fulfilled her military dream at the young age of 39 by volunteering for service in the Ohio Army National Guard. “I wanted to join when I was 18,” she said, “but my maturity level wasn’t there and family support wasn’t there.”
After completing the required advanced individual training she was notified just two months after returning home from basic training that she was scheduled for deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Specialist” Bailey was assigned to the 135th Military Police Company out of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, whose mission was to Iraqi police and provide military security.
During her time in Iraq, Bailey said she enjoyed learning about another culture. “The people there were friendly and very receptive of us,” she noted. “They enjoyed having Chai (tea) with us and sharing stories.”
“Our mission there was winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people,” Bailey said. “It had evolved from being a war to a police mission.” Another of Bailey’s primary duties was to drive a Caimen Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, referred to by military personnel as “MRAP.”
After 10 months of active duty, Bailey returned to her family and found her job waiting for her at Cedarville University. She resumed her work on November 6 with the full support of the school’s administration.
“We are very proud of Tonya and all of the service people working here at the university,” said Bailey’s supervisor, Roscoe Smith, assistant vice president for enrollment management and marketing.
“The biggest challenge we faced was known for sure when Tonya would be leaving and when she might be back,” he said. “We had to train someone, actually several people, to do the work that she was doing before she left because we had to find a replacement so quickly.”
Bailey said she feels fortunate not to have experienced the same kinds of problems returning to civilian life so common to soldiers serving in current military conflicts. “I didn’t even feel out of place at all,” she said, “even coming home I didn’t experience the culture shock. It was all part of the army experience and that’s how it felt to me.”
Bailey has been married to her husband Michael for 20 years. The couple has two children, a 17-year-old son named Jesse and a 20 year old daughter named Puanani, which means “beautiful flower.” Following in her mother’s footsteps, Puanani is on active military duty.
Bailey credits the success of her career to the support of her family and her religious faith. “There’s nothing I can’t do through Christ,” Bailey said. “I felt so much peace while I was there, without him I’d be lost.”
While finished with her first tour, Bailey is still enlisted in the service and could be called upon to go again at any time, and she is ready and willing to do her duty once more. “You’re never too old to do anything,” she said. “I have had life experiences you can’t gain from behind a desk.”
Bailey’s plan for the future is to continue working at Cedarville University while maintaining her military career and eventually attend officer training.