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by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Raymond Mills - May 3, 2015

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JOINT BASE ELMENDORF RICHARDSON, Alaska - Since early childhood, Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Kimberly Daugherty has admired service members, especially those who fly. The shiny wings displayed on their uniforms instilled in her a sense of wonder. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always responded with the same answer: an astronaut or pilot.

Unfortunately, her dreams were dashed when her parents told her she would never fly due to poor eyesight. At an early age, she started wearing glasses to correct her vision.

April 7, 2015 - Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Kimberly Daugherty, a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster with the 144th Airlift Squadron, is studying to get her private pilot license with the Elmendorf Aero Club at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Daugherty endeavors to a professional pilot flying for the National Guard or for a commercial carrier. (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson photo by David Bedard)
April 7, 2015 - Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Kimberly Daugherty, a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster with the 144th Airlift Squadron, is studying to get her private pilot license with the Elmendorf Aero Club at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Daugherty endeavors to a professional pilot flying for the National Guard or for a commercial carrier. (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson photo by David Bedard)

“My dream was already squashed by the time I was 6 years old; I didn't know what avenues I had,” said Daugherty, now a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster with the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron.

Resigned to disappointment, Daugherty continued a life without direction.

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

Before long, she found herself working as a blood donor technician at a local mall. Little did she know, her life was about change for the better.

One day, she found herself assisting a uniformed member, who happened to be a recruiter and flight officer.

Over several visits, Daugherty said he continually spoke to her and seemed to constantly present a professional image.

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

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.

Before long, Daugherty enlisted in the Alaska Air National Guard as a C-17 loadmaster.

“I had a friend that had just completed the training who said ‘Is it impossible? No. Is it something you can do? Yes. And it's worth it when you finish,'” Daugherty said.

After Basic Military Training, she attended the Basic Loadmaster Course, which was followed by Water Survival-Parachute Training and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training.

“SERE training was scary and intimidating,” Daugherty said. “It's something I will never forget, and every time I think about a zombie apocalypse, I think SERE training.”

After nine months of training, Daugherty emerged as a qualified C-17 loadmaster. Upon completing her initial training, she returned home and served a short active-duty tour for follow-on flight training.

“[It] was stressful, rewarding and definitely worth it,” she said. “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.”

Once, while on a flight, some pilots asked Daugherty why she didn't get her real wings.

“I was insulted, but it made me realize that I wanted to get my pilot wings,” said Daugherty.

To further her personal and professional goals, Daugherty enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage to pursue a commercial flying license, as well as taking lessons at the Elmendorf Aero club to get her private pilot license.

The club not only supports recreational pursuits, but also supports the military mission by providing training and certification requirements for service members who are pursuing flight careers,” said Wally Hansen, chief flight instructor at the Aero Club.

All of her training and education is in pursuit of her goal of flying commercially or militarily.

“They say having your private pilot license is highly recommended because it shows perseverance,” Daugherty said.

Determined to succeed, she has remained focused and continued her education and flight training.

“I can watch the Guard pilots all day long, take what I learn from them and apply it to a different aircraft,” Daugherty said. “The fundamentals are the same.”

According to Daugherty, falling back on education and training makes all the difference.

“I used to be scared and nervous to fly solo and land, but now that I completed my first solo, I'm not scared anymore,” Daugherty said.

Overcoming fear and anxiety is an integral part of the flying mission. Daugherty said real-word 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 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.”

Staying positive and focused is the only way forward.

“They say if you do what you love, it's not work anymore,” Daugherty said. “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.”

Daugherty said she finds inspiration from a quote by World War I flying ace Maj. Eddie Rickenbacker.

“Aviation is proof that if given the will we have the capacity to achieve the impossible,” the ace said.

“It's an attitude,” Daugherty said. ‘What can you do,' not ‘what can't you do?'

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Raymond Mills
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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