Col. Lettie J. Bien (Ret), J.D. '86, has surmounted numerous obstacles in her military and civilian careers, but one of her biggest challenges is condensing her resume. She has been told more than once that she should write a book about her life. Another piece of advice she ignored, fortunately, came from her high school career counselor. "She told me to forget about going to college and consider trade school," Bien recalled. "Trade school at that time was cosmetology."
Bien moved from New York to North Miami when her parents divorced. In college, she double-majored in government and psychology, but wasn't sure what came next. "Maybe I'll join the army," she said flippantly to an enlisted co-worker. Six months later, Bien was in Fort McClellan, Ala., at the Women's Army Corps Officer Orientation. During the three-year commitment, she earned a M.A. in Public Administration from Webster University.
Bien entered the reserves, returned to Florida and worked in medical sales. Her grandparents predicted she would be a lawyer someday. "In my brain it was always something I wanted to do," she remembered. Working full time, she attended the School of Law's night program. Bien recalls the professors' energy and humor. "I had all of the personalities everyone talked about for years," she explained. The late professors Richard Hausler and John Gaubatz were particularly memorable. After graduation, she worked at Fowler White, P.A., returning to active duty three or four times a year. Frustrated with billable hours, she opened the Law Offices of Lettie J. Bien, P.A. in 1993. "I wanted more opportunity to do other things," she said.
In 1995, Bien became Director of Relocation Operations for the U.S. Southern Command. She was promoted to Colonel in 2001. In 2002, she became CEO of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce and was called to active duty in 2003. She was deployed to Iraq, where she was senior advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and minerals and military assistant to Ambassador Richard Jones. She retired in 2007 but returned to Iraq in 2009 as a Department of the Army Highly Qualified Expert and special advisor to the Commander of Multi-National Corps. Her bursting portfolio includes Iraqi women's initiatives, economic development and rule of law.
Bien and her husband, Dr. David Schmitt, M.D. '78, are moving to Charlottesville, Va., where they will put down new roots. Speaking firmly against what she calls the "woulda, shoulda, coulda disease," Bien admonishes people who give up or settle. "Thinking outside the box is illusory," she believes. "Doing something outside the box is tangible."