College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Statements Feature: On Top of the World

Katie Bries

Capt. Katie Bries, ’10, stepped out into the frigid Greenland air at Thule Air Force Base and looked up with surprise. It was 11 p.m., but the sky blazed bright as noon.

Welcome to life 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Bries was at the remote airbase for only a short stint, but the surreal experience of living life in perpetual sunshine was exactly what she was looking for in a career. Yet, if you told her during her time at UNI that she would end up joining the U.S. Air Force after college, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.

“The Arctic Circle was not on the list of places I thought I would visit in my life,” Bries said. “I can’t think of any other job where you get to do things like that.”

Bries arrived at UNI as a political science major, but ended up graduating with a double major, adding anthropology after a class on human origins piqued her interest in the field.

In 2010, she emerged from college into the stalled economy of the recession and decided to attend law school, enrolling in Drake University Law School. After graduation, she knew she wanted to take a non-traditional career path, something that allowed her to travel while entertaining a variety of fields. It turned out the Air Force checked those boxes. 

“I sat down one night on the website and started poking around,” Bries said. “Everything I learned about it made it more interesting.” 

So, she joined and started active duty in January 2014 with the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, commonly known as the JAG Core. She was stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and started working as a prosecutor and legal assistance attorney. From there, she moved to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, where she worked primarily in military justice. 

Now, she is stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, where she is a Special Victims’ Counsel with the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, Community Legal Services Directorate, Special Victims’ Counsel Division. In this capacity, she provides independent legal representation to and advocacy on behalf of sexual assault victims during the investigation and throughout the criminal prosecution process.

These frequent changes in scenery and job responsibilities are exactly what Bries was looking for in a career.

“You get to dabble,” Bries said. “I feel like I get to do something different frequently. And you meet fantastic people from all over the place and all sorts of backgrounds.”

Besides her time in Greenland, Bries also traveled to South Korea, where she worked with attorneys and learned about international law and the law of war. There, her experience in political science and anthropology served her well.

“It was an opportunity to use those skills, where you’re connecting with people from a different background who might have different approaches to the same problem, and you’re able to work with them successfully,” Bries said. 

This summer, Bries will move to Washington D.C. and pursue a Masters of Law in environmental law. After that, she owes the Air Force three more years and then it will be off to another adventure. She’s considered teaching at the college or law school level, but she’s keeping her options open.

One thing is certain: Her future is as bright as that nighttime sky, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.


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