7th Signal Command (Theater) profiles outstanding women leaders: Col. Julia Donley

By Colin BroadstoneMarch 28, 2023

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In honor of Women's History Month, 7th Signal Command (Theater) is featuring outstanding women leaders who have critical roles in meeting the Command’s mission of executing theater-level DoDIN operations and providing the CONUS digital infrastructure for the U.S. Army and Joint Force partners. One of these leaders is Col. Julia Donley, Commander of the 21st Signal Brigade.

Growing up, Col. Donley’s family skipped a generation of military service. Her grandfather and great-uncles were WWII veterans, but her parents and their siblings did not serve. While Col. Donley was always inclined to consider public service, after she spent her high school sophomore year in the Czech Republic, she started thinking about a Foreign Service career. Her father’s best friend, a retired Army Colonel, then suggested she consider the Army, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Col. Donley enrolled in the ROTC program at Georgetown University and earned a bachelor's degree in international affairs from George Washington University, focusing on Russia and Eastern Europe. She commissioned as a Signal officer, having always been capable around computers, and serving as her family designated “Sig-O” for many years.

In her current role as Brigade Commander, she is in charge of over 1,400 Soldiers and Civilians who provide communication support to numerous Federal agencies and national security missions. Her leadership philosophy in this role is straightforward and to the point.

“I believe that simply taking care of people will take care of the mission,” said Col. Donley. “It is what the Army does – we are a people-based organization.”

As a woman in the military and in the Signal Corps specifically, Col. Donley recognizes the gender imbalance she faces, but she sees it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

“I often look around and realize I am the only woman in the room, and it makes me aware that I do need to represent as a female leader. It gives me a little more responsibility to show that gender doesn’t matter, that I am able to do my job well, and I need to encourage other women to do the same thing,” said Col. Donley.

Col. Donley praises recent Army decisions on its parental leave policy and the creation of female-specific uniforms, remarking that meeting the needs of women will help the Army recruit and retain them. She also stresses the importance of encouraging recruits and younger Soldiers and Civilians, and mentoring them—regardless of their gender, background, or career path.

“Mentorship is key to developing future leaders,” said Col. Donley. “Sometimes leaders tend to find someone who looks like them to mentor, but I try to reach out to people who lead as I do.”

Her advice to women looking to follow in her footsteps is simple.

"Do the best that you can in whatever job you are in,” said Col. Donley. “Give it everything that you have."