By Lt. Col. Katherine Hemken, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 30, 2021
When I was asked to write an article for Women’s History month, I wasn’t sure that I was the right fit. I see so many talented, successful women who are probably more qualified to write something. But, one of my senior noncommissioned officers convinced me that all I needed to write is my story. I’m not sure if this is what she was expecting, but here goes:
Growing up, I saw my mom balance life as a U. S. Marine Corps reserve officer with being a stay-at-home mom. Both my parents were colonels, so it never really occurred to me how challenging it must have been - and quite honestly, how impressive it was that she was so successful. Taking after my parents, I decided to join the U.S. Air Force, and going to the U.S. Air Force Academy seemed like a good fit. In 2006, I commissioned and headed to Seymour Johnson, North Carolina, for my first assignment.
The spring of 2009 I deployed to Iraq as a 1st Lt. If you’d asked me where I’d be in 12 years, there’s a zero percent chance that I’d have said I’d be a squadron commander at Aviano Air Base. Although I enjoyed serving, I had plans to start a family and separate from the USAF when my commitment was up.
That July, my plans changed when my husband died in a plane crash. Instead of starting a family, I had to figure out how to keep moving forward. Thankfully, I had an amazing support network: family, friends, and a whole USAF team that kept me going. I saw what it meant to lead and I felt what it meant to take care of people. Ultimately, those experiences drove me to the path that I’m on now. I wanted to make a difference, a positive difference, in the same way that others had done for me. So, I stayed in. I worked hard to make things better. After several years and a few moves around the world, I ended up here.
In between 1st Lt. and Lt. Col., I married my amazing (and supportive!) husband, became a family with his three kids, adopted two dogs, took command of the World’s Best Squadron, and had a baby girl. Looking back, it’s not the path that I would have guessed or even picked. But, it’s given me opportunities that I couldn’t have dreamed, and showed me that success looks like so many different things.
Through it all, I’ve learned each and every one of us has the power to make a difference. To help others succeed. To make things better. Make the most of it!