SOUTH LOOP — One of the latest recruits to land in the South Loop is actually the first woman to earn the rank of brigadier general in the Illinois National Guard.
Brig. Gen. Alicia Tate-Nadeau moved into the neighborhood about a month ago after taking a local post with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In fact, her first day in town was the day of the fifth-largest snowstorm in Chicago history.
"So I very quickly understood why everybody in Chicago wears the long, ugly, puffy coats and has galoshes that go all the way to the knees," Tate-Nadeau said Wednesday. "It became quite apparent to me this is not a fashion statement, this is out of necessity."
Yet if the city fashion wasn't a perfect fit, the job that brought her here was.
Tate-Nadeau got into the National Guard after taking, and eminently enjoying, a Reserve Officer Training Corps course while a college student in her native state of Oklahoma 30 years ago.
"After one course I found out I loved it and was pretty good at it," Tate-Nadeau said.
Instrumental was a tour of duty under Col. Norman Aschenbrenner in the Illinois Army National Guard in downstate Sycamore from 1989-91.
"He taught me there was only one standard for the men and women who serve," Tate-Nadeau said. "Make a decision that is good for your soldier or you're wrong, and he was going to hold you, as an officer, accountable for that."
That attitude has served her well since deciding to abandon the once-a-week duty of a conventional reservist for the full-time Active Guard Reserve in 1997.
Since then, her most demanding post has been as a public information officer for the Illinois National Guard during the early days of the Iraq War just over a decade ago.
"I literally cried in a corner when I got it," Tate-Nadeau said. "It was the hardest job I've had ... in the beginning of the war when we were taking so many casualties. However, it gave me an opportunity to tell the soldiers’ story and to give honor to the men and women who have died. The people I’ve served have stayed with me forever."
After recently serving three years in Israel as a liaison officer, she returned to achieve the rank of brigadier general, which ranks above colonel. When she was promoted last weekend, she became the first woman so honored in the Illinois National Guard. Yet she all but dismissed the notion of being a pioneer for women.
"Being a leader transcends gender and everything else," she said. "I never wanted to be the best female officer. I wanted to be the best officer."
Her most recent post as the Illinois Army National Guard assistant adjutant general found her overseeing the guard's homeland-security response. "Young enough to pursue an active career," she said it dovetailed at the end of last year with a return to a civilian job with FEMA in offices based here in the South Loop.
"I'm a pretty strong believer in giving back to society," Tate-Nadeau said. "I know it sounds all corny to say 'to give back to society,' but I've been pretty blessed," she added. "FEMA came up, and that was like the perfect fit for me. It allowed me to use my background in the military with emergency management."
It's also what landed her in the South Loop.
"I really want to be close to work because I'm on call 24/7," Tate-Nadeau said. "The ability to get in and out of work rapidly was important to me," even though the job, heading a 12-person rapid-response team assigned to cover FEMA's Region V — six Great Lakes states including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — calls for her to be on the road about half the time.
She said the job demands her team to be "the first ones on the ground representing the federal government" in case of emergency.
Having lived for a while in quieter downstate Delavan, however, she also found other aspects of South Loop welcoming.
"I just like the feel and the vibe of the area," Tate-Nadeau said. "Where I live, I'm in the city, but it actually feels like part of the suburbs, too.
"I love being able to walk to everything and walk to the lake," she added. "I can ride my bike, I can run, there are dog parks, green space, local restaurants. ... Those things were what really attracted me to it."
Now she's trying to weigh whether she'll be home enough to bring in a dog she adopted in Israel, now in Oklahoma, where her children, 24-year-old daughter Lindsey and 18-year-old son Gavin, also live.
Yet, however that works out, she has higher hopes for bringing her son into the state, as the senior at Norman High School has applied to the University of Illinois.
"The men and women I’ve served have been amazing, but the two people who have taken the brunt every time duty calls are those two kids," Tate-Nadeau said. "They're my biggest supporters, and I could not have done it without them."
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