Looking

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Kyleanne Hunter, one of the first female Cobra helicopter pilots in the U.S. Marine Corps and a strong, unapologetic and beautiful woman.  We quickly recognized a kindred spirit between us, and I asked if I could interview her for my blog as well as re-post some of her blogs on The Pole Story.  She graciously agreed.  What struck me about Ky’s writing was that despite clear external differences in occupation and career, there was a great deal of similarity in our struggle to define ourselves as women through non-traditional roles.  Read on to find out more about the amazing Ky.

“I’d rather be looked over, than overlooked” – Mae West

I never
really had a choice. I was always taller than the average girl, but was
definitely not a boy. Physically, I kept up with the boys from
4-year-old soccer team; perhaps a portend to the future being captain of
the boy’s waterpolo team in high school, beating my male counterparts
on the endurance course and PFTs in the Marine Corps, and racing in
men’s races on the bike. I’m 5’11”, and, shall we say, have curves;
still definitely not a boy. Even my name, Kyleanne, stands out as unique. I stand out in a crowd. Not exactly overlooked.

However,
the past decade of my professional life has, on the surface, has pushed
gender neutrality and conformity. “We’re all Marines,” we were told,
starting at OCS. “Woman Marines” has become as cringe-worthy as a
racial slur. Uniformity, order, and discipline were drilled into us
along with the core values of honor, courage and commitment. My time in
the USMC was the time of the Nation’s longest war. A time when I went
from optimistic post-college girl, full of spit, fire and donning
designer shoes, to battle-ready Marine, trained to close with and
destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver.

Through OCS, TBS,
Flight School, Squadron Life, and deployments I lost “Kyleanne” and
found Candidate -> Lieutenant -> Captain Hunter. A rank-name
construct that is gender-race-creed neutral. Necessary for order and
discipline and execution of commander’s intent. This is what wins wars,
secures our Nation, and makes crowds ohh and ahh at the precision and
lock-step of ceremonial drill.
It also has secondary effects. It
allows us to think of ourselves as a collective “Marines” rather than
individuals. In war, this makes it easier for us to sacrifice ourselves
and our friends for a greater good, and to kill the enemy. Detachment
is necessary for success. Individualism must be overlooked.
Personality stymied. We become interchangeable parts in the
Marine-Air-Ground-Task-Force, known for our names, rank and Military
Occupation Specialty; by extension, learning not to think of ourselves
or our personal wants. “Weapon-Gear-Self” is the order of precedence of
care. And generally by the time self is reached, I’m too tired to
think about it.

When I entered the Marine Corps, I was fully
aware of the “service” component of military service. I was, however,
unaware of just how much it would change my perception of self. For
several years, I put on olive drab green or desert brown, and, in the
name of supporting the country I love, worked to ensure that Kyleanne
would be overlooked for the betterment of the Corps. Success and
acceptance went hand-in-hand; to thrive, which in turn meant the MAGTF
thrived and wars could be won, I blended in. I became hard when I had to be hard, and reacted on instinct and training.

It
wasn’t until I came to the House of Representatives as the Marine Corps
Liaison that the loneliness of being overlooked in the name of honor,
courage, and commitment came to weigh fully on me. The energy I had
poured into ensuring I fully became “Captain, USMC” my peers had poured
into creating relationships, marriages, homes and families. The hours I
spent piloting a Cobra helicopter over the desert, they spent building a
life to ensure comfort, love, and security in their old age. Nights I
spend sitting, shivering in a conex box wondering, in the few moments of
solitude I got, “what the fuck am I doing here?” they spent in lovers’
arms. My 20s and early 30s – years women typically give to someone to
start a foundation of life together – I gave to everyone else. As I am
beginning to shed the layers of green and brown and transition into
civilian life, this brings to the surface intense feeling of loneliness,
fear, and overwhelming anxiety that I have missed some higher life
purpose.

I do not regret one minute I spent as part of great
collective that is the USMC. People have often remarked that I am a
“strong, independent woman.” And I am. But, in order to be so, I need
to be Kyleanne. Today I found out that I was accepted to every graduate
program to which I applied. In a small way, it was a sense of
validation that I am still wanted and relevant as an individual. That
my time as part of the collective is just a step in become more of an
individual.

Last
year, I was in a position to start doing things for me. It started
with racing my bike. The pain I felt was mine, and mine alone, and the
victories were a result of long hours of very personal suffering and
dedication. On the bike, I was needed and wanted for being me. I
developed a personality that became known (and maybe even loved) in the
regional elite pelaton. I developed a relationship with my coach that
pulled me through bouts of depression and anxiety, and life-long
friendships with teammates and competitors alike. For the first time in
nearly a decade, a community wanted me as much for who I was as what I
could do. I was being looked over, as it were, not over looked.

Transitioning
into the civilian world, I’m still not fully sure who Kyleanne is, nor
who she will become. I have spent so long worrying about not being
“too-Ky” that I don’t know how long it will take to full separate myself
from being part of an institution and openly and completely embrace the
individual. The irony of my years of burying myself in order to be
overlooked, is that as I enter my new life, this will cause me to
constantly looked-over. There are few female attack pilots out there,
and fewer still with legislative liaison experience, and exactly zero
others who also race bikes. So I’m moving on, knowing full well that I
am in a position to once again stand out. And am embracing this as an
opportunity to probe myself and others with curiosity. And challenge
the world to go ahead and look me over. Just don’t be surprised when I
look back.

 

To read more of Ky’s blogs, go to: www.welcometokyland.blogspot.com.

1 comment on “LookingAdd yours →

  1. Thank you for your service, and congratulations on getting in to all those programs! Remember that as you were pouring your life into the Marines there are also people spending the best years of their lives… not living, just passing the days. While not devoted to yourself, the years you spent have made a difference in so many ways. I hope your journey of self discovery continues to fulfill and exhilarate you!

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