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Soldier of good fortune

Date: 9/4/2012

Col. Deborah Geiger, U.S. Army
Alvernia Class of 1983 
B.A., Criminal Justice Administration
Alvernia’s first commissioned ROTC scholarship student. 
Received letters from the late Sister Pacelli while serving in the first Persian Gulf War.

Col. Deborah Geiger '83 has spent much of her U.S. Army career investigating crimes and protecting criminal investigators. She's been dedicated to guarding the safety and sanity of her subordinates whether they're searching for the remains of soldiers or the remnants of terrorists.

“If you take care of your people, they’re going to take care of you,” says Geiger. “That just goes hand in glove.”

Geiger’s military background is hand in glove, too. Growing up a mile from the Alvernia campus, she was attracted by the physical, mental and familial challenges of serving her country. In her office she keeps a photograph of her maternal grandfather, an Italian immigrant who cooked for the Army during World War I. “He didn’t go by recipes,” says Geiger. “He added seasonings and ingredients to his meals. His chow line was very popular.”

A natural leader, Geiger was Alvernia’s first commissioned ROTC scholarship student. Sixteen months after graduating, she headed a military-police platoon. In 1990-91 she served in Saudi Arabia and Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War. By 2001 she had earned the role of battalion commander for the Crime Investigation Command (CID), which examines allegations of legal violations involving Army members.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was Geiger who sent CID agents to identify the remains of victims of the Pentagon bombing. According to Geiger, the 9/11 attacks intensified homeland security within Army units, and she encouraged agents to Skype family members, confide in chaplains, and take online courses. 

"That's my responsibility as a leader: to help my subordinates perform a mission while giving them balance and some quality of life," says Geiger. “They will do anything for you, but you have do everything you can for them, too.”

Later assignments ranged from hunting for evidence of Osama bin Laden in Afghan caves to searching for the remains of U.S. soldiers.

Geiger is proud that her former CID superior, Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder (Ret.), praised her efficient, ethical leadership. Even more so, she’s thankful that none of her soldiers died as a result of operations or combat. “I never had to bury one of my own,” she says.

Geiger distills her many skills in her current post as a teacher at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Her courses include Nation Building and Peacekeeping. One of her academic specialties is the Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878 to prevent soldiers from abusing duties as civilian police officers during emergencies.

In some ways, Geiger is a military model of her Alvernia mentor, Sister Pacelli. She recalls the late professor as popular, profound and practical — a rare trinity of virtues. “I liked her matter-of-fact manner, her depth of knowledge, her spirituality, her willingness to give,” says Geiger, a daily communicant whose faith has shaped her view of life as much as anything. “Most of the criminal justice majors she taught were males, yet she considered me one of her boys.”

  • History: Established as a private four-year liberal arts college in 1958, Alvernia celebrated its 50th year by being awarded university status in 2008.
  • Heritage: Founded by the Bernardine Sisters, a Catholic religious order, the university embraces the Franciscan core values of service, humility, collegiality, contemplation and peacemaking.
  • Motto: “To Learn, To Love, To Serve”
  • Campus: The main campus in Reading is 121 acres, with two satellite campuses in Philadelphia and Pottsville (Schuylkill County).
  • Location: Our residential campus is situated three miles from center-city Reading, in the scenic Blue Mountain area of Eastern Pennsylvania.
  • Enrollment: 3,000 students attend Alvernia including 1,500 traditional undergraduates, 600 continuing education students, and 780 graduate students. Over 77% of first-year students live on campus.
  • Faculty: Our professors are accomplished scholars, experts in their fields, and supportive mentors. The student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1. Most classes are 20 students or fewer.
  • Athletics: NCAA Division III, member of the Commonwealth Conference of the Middle Atlantic States Athletic Corporation and member of Eastern College Athletic Conference, 8 men’s and 10 women’s intercollegiate sports.