Southeast Alum Keeps America's Records
College of Science and Mathematics
When most people deal with paperwork at their job, it’s usually just run-of-the-mill, average paperwork. Not Bryan McGraw.
“I get to hang out with famous individuals throughout history,” Bryan says. “By this I mean we have military personnel records of over 57 million individuals who served in our nation’s military from the late 1800s through the early portion of the 21st century. Among these are famous individuals who served in the military: historic generals, admirals, decorated heroes, celebrities, former Presidents and so on.”
Bryan is the director of archives for the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Mo., a large component of the National Archives and Records Administration. He heads up the largest archive in the United States outside of the greater Washington, D.C., area. He manages the archival program for the military, genealogy and family history records of the United States. The NPRC archives maintain custody of more than 500,000 cubic feet of records, most of which are personnel records of former members of the U.S. military. This collection is expected to grow to more than 1.5 million cubic feet by the latter half of the century.
Bryan has also been overseeing the planning, development and construction of two large replacement facilities for the original archives building, including the movement of records, equipment and approximately 700 employees to these new locations. Together, these two projects cost $130 million.
“The first project was the construction of the NPRC Annex in Valmeyer, Ill.; a 398,000 square foot warehouse and office complex housing two million cubic feet of records. This facility, costing $25 million, was constructed in former limestone caves and was built in only eight months,” says Bryan.
Bryan also prepared a $2.7 million move contract for the movement of records and equipment to the new facility.
Bryan graduated from Southeast in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science degree in geography and minor in aerospace studies. He was also a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC and received a regular appointment in the United States Air Force upon graduating. He served nearly eight years on active duty as a commissioned officer in the Air Force, followed by six years in the Air Force Reserve. He has also served as director of quality for Deutsche Financial Services in St. Louis and director of quality and process improvement for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis, among other positions.
He says his secret to success is to get an excellent education, work and play hard, keep everything in perspective, never put yourself ahead of your employees, coworkers, colleagues or customers and try to find humor and happiness in everything you do.
“Life is too short to not enjoy it. I have seen the best and worst of humankind firsthand and been through some rough stretches medically over the past 10 years, and I firmly believe in living each day as if it were your last,” says Bryan.
Bryan says his undergraduate degree from Southeast laid the foundation for his professional life and future graduate education (he earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and has completed Ph.D. work in public policy at Saint Louis University). His experiences in the Air Force ROTC program also helped prepare him to become an officer and a leader. Without these tools, he says, he would not be where he is today.
He offered the following advice to future Southeast students.
“Work hard, get your degree and do what you enjoy in life. Don't pick a profession because it's what others think or feel you should do. Do what you want to do and be the best at it!
“I have been blessed to have learned from and worked with some great people throughout my life. I have earned all sorts of recognition, awards, medals and honors, including Southeast’s Young Alumni Merit Award several years ago. I cherish these and appreciate the thoughtfulness, but my most memorable accomplishments and the ones that have left a lasting impression on me were such things as when I was a mortuary officer in the Air Force, helping a family through the devastating loss of a loved one. I am also proud of the work I have done in my current position, whether seeing beautiful buildings constructed, assisting a family member of a veteran, a researcher or member of the public learn something about records or history that they needed but couldn’t find,” he says.
“These records, many of which are open to the public in our archive, are full of interesting information which gives perspective to history. I also enjoy working with the public and our employees and contractors to provide essential services to our nation. The National Archives is the record-keeper of the United States and is full of billions upon billions of pages and documents, photographs, films and other media documenting democracy in action.”
Bryan says he has several fond memories of Southeast, especially graduation and his commission into the Air Force, as well as some fun times such as blowing off steam with his roommates or fellow Myers Hall residents with a Frisbee.
“My unofficial major was a Bachelor of Sports in Distance Frisbee, with a minor in Ultimate Frisbee and Frisbee Golf,” he jokes. “I could sling a disc just about anywhere and did every chance I could get. Unfortunately, I think some of my tendonitis today is due in part to the hours I spent slinging the disc.
“My time at Southeast is one of the especially bright spots from my past,” he continues. “Getting my degree was one of the most important things I did in my life, right up there with meeting my wife, getting married and raising a family. As you get older these memories seem to get stronger, as you realize how truly enjoyable and meaningful they were to you. I always make an effort to enjoy each day because they go fast--especially as you change jobs, get promoted, move, get married, raise a family, etc. One day you wake up and come to the realization that the music you listen to is now classified as "oldies;" you can't seem to keep up with technology no matter how hard you try; and when talking to your children or younger coworkers you start your sentences with ‘When I was your age...’ and end it with ‘...and we were thankful;’ Before you know it, it will be 25 years or more since you graduated from Southeast!”
Looking to the future, Bryan says he plans to eventually retire from civil service. In the meantime, he says he’s dedicated to finishing the NPRC’s construction projects and huge moves and getting its archives firmly established in the new building.
“After that I want to take some time off and take my wife to Ireland for our 25th anniversary. I would also like to finish my Ph.D.; everything is finished except my dissertation. After I retire, I'd like to restore or build a Shelby Cobra or Bullitt Mustang,” he says.
Bryan lives in Imperial, Mo., with his wife and three children. In his spare time, he enjoys working on cars, reading military history, playing and coaching ice hockey and spending time with his family.