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Military Connection: Soaring to New Heights

Kimberly Daugherty

By Debbie Gregory.

Whenever young Kimberly Daugherty was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always replied with the same answer: an astronaut or pilot. She wasn’t aware that her poor vision could hold her back until she was six years old, when her parents broke the bad news to her.

After graduating high school, Daugherty was working in useless jobs that weren’t going anywhere. Daugherty said, “I was just working to work.”

A self-described “late bloomer,” Daugherty didn’t imagine herself in the military. She changed her mind when she found out she could fly even if she didn’t have perfect eyesight.

“I didn’t know what an officer was or enlisted was, but I knew I could be aircrew, so I said ‘Sign me up,” Daugherty recalled. “As soon as I found that out, my entire perspective changed.”

Before long, Daugherty was enlisted in the Alaska Air National Guard as a C-17 loadmaster. Encouraged by a friend who completed training, Daugherty attended basic training and continued after with the loadmaster course, which was followed by water survival, parachute training and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape training.

In just nine months, Daugherty was a qualified C-17 loadmaster. After she completed her initial training, she returned home and served a short active-duty tour for follow-on flight training, something she found stressful, but rewarding, and definitely worth it.

“It’s not easy, but it’s worth it once you get through it. Earning my enlisted aircrew wings, I’ll never forget that day.”

Although she earned her enlisted wings, Daugherty didn’t have real wings, something a fellow pilot asked her about. Feeling insulted that she didn’t have her pilot wings, she enrolled at the University of Alaska in Anchorage to pursue a commercial flying license, as well as taking lessons at the Elmendorf Aero Club to get her private license.

Determined to succeed, Daugherty has remained focused and continues her education and flight training. She says she no longer feels nervous about flying solo. Overcoming fear and anxiety is an integral part of flying, she noted, adding that gaining real world flight experience can’t be replaced by a classroom or a book.

“Anyone can learn to fly a plane, but it’s the ones that work the best under stress that the Air Force wants,” Daugherty said.

Although flight training is known to be challenging in Alaska’s weather environment, Daugherty’s ambitions fuel her drive.

“Alaska’s weather is a blessing and a curse [when learning to fly,]” Daugherty said. “It’s taken me longer than I wanted to, but that’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Finding her niche has helped Daugherty not only fit in, but has also helped her achieve new heights. “The Aero Club is a club, but it’s also a family. It’s cool because you surround yourself with people who have the same passion as you.”

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Military Connection: Soaring to New Heights: By Debbie Gregory