PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
As the Air Force Reserve transitions from the year 2020 into the year 2021, the words ‘Reserve Resilient’ ring louder than ever before. One Reserve Citizen Airman, Brig. Gen. Kathleen Flarity, mobilization assistant to the command surgeon, Air Mobility Command, not only maintains a healthy balance between her Reserve, civilian and family life – She continually gives of her personal time to be a more resilient leader for those in her career field.
“Throughout Brig. Gen. Flarity’s entire career, I have been awed by her ability to multitask like nobody else,” said Chief (ret.) JP Wirth, who worked with Flarity at multiple locations throughout her career. “As a captain, she simultaneously maintained a civilian flight nurse position, her Reserve flight nurse position, continued a rigorous education program leading to her PhD, raised two young children and still made time for sky diving, hiking and other pursuits.”
Brig. Gen. Kathleen Flarity, mobilization assistant to the command surgeon, Air Mobility Command (center), poses for a photo with her son, Patrick, and daughter, Tori, before a skydiving jump. Flarity has made over 2500 jumps since graduating Army Airborne School and her children have over 50 jumps. (Courtesy Photo)
Flarity, whose father also served in the military, comes from a patriotic family and started her own military career at the young age of 17.
“I was going to become a nurse and was accepted into a nursing program, but I came from a poor family and couldn’t afford nursing school,” Flarity explained. “I joined to figure out a way to pay for school, but it really highlighted for me that I loved the military and I loved the medical career field.”
In 1985, Flarity attending Army Airborne School as one of only nine women in a class of 500. She was known only as N-11 – ‘N’ for non-commissioned officer and 11 as her assigned number. She was appointed platoon sergeant of an all-male platoon consisting of Army, Air Force and Marines, officers and enlisted.
Kathleen Flarity, United States Army Airborne School, 1985, was known only as N-11 – N for NCO and 11, her assigned number – and was one of only nine women in a class of 500. Flarity was appointed Platoon Sargent of an all-male platoon, officers and enlisted personnel, for Army, Marines and Air Force. After performing combat jumps wearing 85-pounds worth of gear and only weighing 110 pounds herself, Flarity says she proudly wears those wings still today. (Courtesy Photo)
“I was out in front, which garnished a lot of [physical] abuse, performing combat jumps with 85 pounds of gear on my 110-pound frame,” said Flarity. “The more they pushed me to quit, the more determined I became to succeed.”
Starting her military career as an Army combat medic helped Flarity understand what it was like to be a ground medic, she said. She was brought on as the inaugural commander in 2008 for the recently established 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 302nd Airlift Wing, due to her understanding of what ground and en route care medics do.
“I got to start the 34 AES from scratch,” said Flarity. “I was a squadron of one and they empowered me to hire a team. I loved the people, loved the mission and I was able to take the squadron on a great trajectory.”
As Flarity witnessed the struggles her colleagues faced in the medical career field, she became passionate about caring for the care giver and creating an awareness about compassion fatigue.
“My best friend left the AF and the profession of nursing after an aeromedical evacuation deployment in 2003,” said Flarity. “He was ultimately diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, but had compassion fatigue. He came back broken. I wanted to know what we can do to prevent and mitigate the hard work that we do, so rewarding and challenging.”
When Flarity was deployed in 2011 as the AE commander in Bagram, Afghanistan, she watched her teams suffer after seeing seriously injured patients, such as triple amputees, day after day. Wanting to make a difference as a leader, Flarity reached out to a renowned traumatologist, Eric Gentry, PhD, author of “Forward-Facing Trauma Therapy: Healing the Moral Wound,” who had also done a lot of work on PTSD and CF.
“I trained with him on my own time and became a certified compassion fatigue specialist,” said Flarity. “With Dr. Gentry’s foundational work, I have developed and implemented an intervention aimed at mitigating CF. I have done several research studies on the impact of the intervention entitled Passion in Practice, and often publish and lecture on the subject.”
Col. Kathleen Flarity, 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander, stands on the flightline of an undisclosed location in South Asia in May 2011. Flarity is now the mobilization assistant to the command surgeon, Air Mobility Command, at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. (Courtesy Photo)
Despite working hard at bettering her career field, Flarity also finds time to challenge herself academically and professionally while encouraging those around her to do the same.
Lt. Col. Brook Elkins, individual mobilization augmentee to U.S. Northern Command’s surgeon, met Flarity when he was assigned to the 302nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron and Flarity was the 34 AES commander. They partnered together in mass casualty exercises, learned a lot from one another and became colleagues, according to Elkins.
“Although I credit many of my accomplishments to my wife, Flarity is a very close 2nd as an influencer in my academics and military progression,” said Elkins. “I often reflect on a time when I was a captain and expecting to ultimately reach the rank of major to eventually retire. I had completed squadron officer school but did not see Air Command and Staff College, nor a master’s degree, as achievable marks due to my civilian obligations. Considering that Col. Flarity had completed Air War College and two doctorates, it is very complicated to make excuses that there is not enough time to complete my next level of academics.”
Flarity never passed judgment, said Elkins, on his lack of commitment to advancing his academics. Instead, she was always very supportive of his, and others, personal journeys.
“It is simple leadership by example,” explained Elkins. “Seeing that she had the time and set her priorities to achieve academic excellence challenged me to consider if I should re-prioritize as well. Fast forwarding… I have now completed my masters and Air Command and Staff, Air War College and I am close to completing my Doctorate in Leadership.”
Leading by example has always been a quality of Flarity’s, according to Wirth. When she had her own newborn, she maneuvered the complexities of bringing a breast pump to work to use on a military aircraft and pumped at appropriate times throughout a training mission, Wirth said.
“Flarity’s ability to see and understand the differences in people has allowed her to also seek out the strengths of each of those individuals and know that everyone has much to contribute,” said Wirth. “The result of her ability to nurture those strengths is a loyalty and drive to contribute to the goals and objectives of a successful mission with strength and honor.”
As a Reserve Citizen Airman, Flarity said one of her favorite things is the sense of community and passion that many Reservists have for their jobs.
“It doesn’t matter what unit or squadron you come from, they embrace you and support you,” said Flarity. “We have the ability as reservists to excel in our civilian and military careers and often they support each other. There’s a synergy there.”
Through her years in the Reserve, Flarity has seen several changes, such as increased opportunities for women.
“I started my career 40 years ago, in 1980, when a female wasn’t seen as capable,” said Flarity. “Now I see things like increased diversity and inclusion, not just with gender, race, ethnicity and religion, but total force. It’s not just active duty with the Guard and Reserve. Now, especially in Air Mobility Command, we’re seen as equal partners. Our nation cannot do the mission without our Guard and Reserve members.”
Flarity is especially excited to see changes for the better in the military as her son is now a senior airman and space systems operator at Schriever AFB and her daughter is enrolled in Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
“The opportunities, collaboration, diversity and inclusion, a lot of the stigma and perception of what a woman or young person in the military should look like, has changed for the better,” said Flarity. “[My kids] have seen that there is great opportunity there.”
The new year brought reflection to Flarity as she thought back to her original goals when she joined the military.
“When I joined at 17, my goal eventually was to make it to E-6,” said Flarity. “To go from an Army medic, private E-1 at 17, to a 1-star general in the Air Force, anything is possible. Truly.”
Cadet Tori Flarity and Senior Airman Patrick Flarity pin stars on their newly promoted mother, Brig. Gen. Kathleen Flarity, mobilization assistant to the command surgeon, Air Mobility Command, during a ceremony at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Denver, Colorado. Flarity began her military career as an Army medic and continues to serve in the Air Force Reserve. (Courtesy Photo-Buckley PA)