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Mrs. Karen A. Esaias
Branch of Service:
Air Force
City: Johnstown
State: Pennsylvania
County: Cambria
Honored By:
Husband, Richard Von Schlichten and sister Kathleen Esaias Sharer
Military Service:

Karen A Esaias
Colonel, Air Force

Early years
Karen A. Esaias was born and raised in the Southmont Borough of Johnstown, PA. The daughter of Donald R. Esaias (WWII Army Air Force Vet) and Catherine L. (Sherlock) Esaias, RN. Karen graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with honors.

Military Career and Pentagon Service
After completing Officer Training School in San Antonio, TX, Karen was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1980 and served a distinguished 27-year active-duty career during which she developed expertise and served in leadership positions in counterintelligence, counterespionage, antiterrorism, and law enforcement. When Second Lieutenant Esaias entered the Air Force, that service included only 7.7% women. She rose through the ranks of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), serving as the first woman in many leadership roles including commanding the first AFOSI Washington Field Office. She was selected as the first female Region Commander, supporting USAF Space and Missile Command throughout the country. Selected to serve as the first female Vice Commander of the entire AFOSI organization, she exercised command and control over three thousand active duty and civilian special agents at 200 operating locations with a $250 million budget. Her organization was charged with protecting Air Force personnel and resources against foreign, domestic, and insider threats.

In that role, she had the opportunity to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with AFOSI agents deployed to five units in Iraq and Kuwait. Her travel there not only demonstrated leadership support for the troops but also increased understanding of the changing deployed environment allowing for better decisions about personnel and logistics. She traveled through Qatar to several bases in Iraq including Talil Air Base in the south, Balad, and finally Bagdad. Colonel Esaias retired from active duty in 2007. Her military awards included the Legion of Merit Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

As a recognized expert in counterintelligence and technology protection, Col Esaias then provided subject matter expertise to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) for the integration of the Department of Defense’s most sensitive intelligence activities.

Family and Personal Life
Karen met her future husband in 1994 when she was selected to attend the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA. During the year-long program, she met the love of her life, Richard Von Schlichten, who ran the Spanish language library at the school. They married in 1997 and subsequently traveled the world together. They were able to return to Johnstown, PA in 2011, where they had been involved in community service ever since.

Community involvement
In 2012, she was inducted into the Cambria County Veterans’ Hall of Fame recognized as a “Distinguished Alumnus” of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. In 2014, she was inducted into the Chapel of the Four Chaplains in recognition of her service to Veterans and the community.

She found her military and leadership skill sets could assist Veterans in this area and at the Director’s request, she became a member of the Advisory Board for the Veteran Community Initiatives. She actively supported the organization, participating in events including the Veterans Symposium and Salute to Veterans, and most recently the Vietnam Era Veterans Recognition Ceremony held on 1 Nov. 2015 at the Cambria County War Memorial where 2,500 came out to honor more than 700 local Vets in attendance. Colonel Esaias attended the inaugural training for Cambria County Veterans’ Court mentors and has acted as a mentor for more than ten years supporting a series of young veterans as they work to turn their lives around.

She was also asked to become a member of the Conemaugh Valley Veterans, a very active local organization and primary organizer and sponsor of Johnstown’s Veterans Day Parade. Colonel Esaias was a proud member of the Lt Col Boyd “Buzz” Wagner Chapter of the Air Force Association and was active in their effort to bring a replica of the Buzz Wagner (First Army Air Corps Ace of WWII and local hero) airplane, the P-40 Warhawk, for display at the John P. Murtha Cambria County airport.

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