Cathryn Illman Sykes (b. 1957) was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. She graduated from Page High School in 1975 and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a ROTC student for a year before marrying fellow ROTC member Bill Sykes. After working as a nursing assistant for three years, she attended nursing school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), graduating in 1983. During this time she was also an ROTC student at nearby North Carolina A&T State University.
Sykes was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force in 1983. She was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, from July 1983 to November 1985 working in a surgical unit and then in the intensive care unit (ICU). From November 1985 to October 1988, Sykes was assigned to the ICU at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, where her husband, who was also in the air force, was stationed. While stationed at Scott, she was sent to Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for flight school.
In October 1988, Sykes was transferred to Rhein Mein Air Force Base in Germany for three years with a flight assignment. She worked with the Flight Clinical Coordinators and also flew two missions into Afghanistan. Sykes also served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm in September and October 1991.
In 1993 Sykes received a master’s degree in trauma and critical care nursing from the University of Maryland in Baltimore. She then went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she worked in the coronary care unit for two years and then became manager of the medicine cardiac rehab unit for one year. Sykes was then transferred to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. She remained there for four and a half years, serving for two years as manager of the recovery room of the Post Anesthesia Care Unit in Wilford Hall and then organizing readiness training. Sykes’s final duty station was Fort Dietrick in Maryland, where she was in charge of air force medical readiness training for one and a half years. She retired from the air force in 2003.
Sykes and her family relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina, when she and her husband left the air force. As of 2006 she was working part-time in various medical-related positions and volunteering with the local Red Cross.