By Eric Bugby, Swimming World Contributor
Kate Kinley is a rising Firstie, or senior, at the United States Military Academy (USMA).
Her story of service is not stereotypical. She wasn’t an Army brat, traveling from one base to another, learning the life from her parents. She never dreamed of being the first female Army Ranger or attending Sapper School. She didn’t strategize each minute of high school to improve her odds of being admitted to West Point.
Kinley was a swimmer, a student, a friend, a daughter, and a teenager enjoying life. Kate Kinley, the soldier, wasn’t conceived until colleges began recruiting her in 2011.
“I think swimming does an excellent job of teaching you that the harder the challenge, the more valuable the experience, and the better you are afterwards for going through it,” said Kinley. “That’s kind of how I pictured my experience would be when I was first introduced to West Point through recruiting.”
In April, after three years at USMA, Kinley was voted team captain by her peers along with fellow Firstie, Molly Mucciarone. This distinction holds a higher significance at West Point because everyone is taught to be a leader. Kinley and Mucciarone were chosen as the best. Leader of leaders.
Army West Point head coach Mickey Wender quickly empowered Kinley to make decisions and lead her teammates. From choosing next season’s team suits to writing welcome notes to the incoming freshmen, Kinley began her summer of service.
Summer of 2015
“I knew West Point would give me the opportunity to serve,” said Kinley. Instead of scheduling leave (time off) this summer, Kate embarks on a tight-packed, globe-trotting adventure of service.
Kinley’s summer starts with an internship in Orlando, Florida working for the Army Research Laboratory.
“I will be studying the intelligent tutoring system they have created called ‘GIFT’ that they hope to apply to the military as a teaching tool and simulator.”
More specifically, Kinley is working with the Multimodular Integrated Behavior Analysis (MIBA). MIBA is designed to simulate a variety of combat scenarios for soldiers, from patrolling to interacting with community leaders in foreign territories.
“What makes MIBA so special is the sensory processing. The system analyzes voice, gaze, facial expression, bodily movement and position to judge performance in the scenario.”
After working at the Army Research Laboratory, Kinley is off to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for Cadet Troop Leadership Training (CTLT). CTLT is a three week experience shadowing a second or first lieutenant.
“I will be able to get a firsthand perspective of life as an officer, leading soldiers.”
Kinley will then fly to London, England for military development with the Royal Military Academy. She is one of the few West Point cadets to qualify for the opportunity to work with foreign soldiers. She will integrate with British platoons and perform mock operations in England and Germany.
“I know sleep will be a rare occurrence, but I am really excited for the experience! I know we will all gain invaluable experience in leadership and form some great friendships.”
If three separate trips weren’t enough, Kinley will end her summer in Bonaire, which is a territory of the Netherlands, located off the coast of Venezuela.
Kinley will work for Gold Star Teen Adventures as a mentor on a scuba diving trip. Gold Star Teen Adventures is an organization for children of soldiers who lost their lives in special operations missions.
“The two week scuba trip offers these kids the chance to come together and enjoy an experience that they unfortunately lost the chance to partake in with their parents. It is so important to honor the lives of fallen soldiers and offer support to family members.”
When I asked her how much free time she will have this summer, Kinley said, “one week.” That week will be just as important as the rest of her summer. To her, family is everything and the reason she cares deeply for others.
“I find it very important to return to the place that made me who I am. There truly is no place like home.”
After West Point
Kinley’s busy summer and busy life at West Point doesn’t subdue her ultimate goals.
Kinley wants to branch Armor. Armor is another word for tanks; picture Brad Pitt in “Fury.” Armor is the stereotypical choice for West Point graduates. It’s what most non-military people assume is the life of an Army officer. West Point offers 17 branches for graduates to pick, from Finance to Medical School, and Armor is one of the most popular choices, so not many get it.
For Kinley, it’s another opportunity to make a difference.
Women are not allowed to choose Armor or Infantry after graduating from West Point. They are both combat branches and for men only. When I asked Kinley about this, she said, “I’m interested in Armor because, although I’ll often face an uphill battle in a completely male dominated branch, being a pioneer for women in the military would be such a privilege.”
“Also, may I add that tanks are the bomb…pun intended?”
Yes you may.
Army West Point assistant coach and women’s recruiting coordinator Haley Mitchell describes Kinley as “one of the most kind and accepting swimmers I’ve had the pleasure of coaching.”
“I think it’s easy for her teammates to be themselves when they’re around her because they know they don’t have to be anything different for her to accept them,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell coaches Kinley on daily basis in Army’s distance group or as it’s known, “Chuck.” Mitchell’s camouflage Chuck Taylor All Star shoes sum up the personality of Chuck and it starts with Kinley.
“Kate brings a great deal of gratitude to the distance group. Since she swims different events (200/400 IM, 200 BR) than most people in the group, she could easily resent doing the extra yardage, but she does exactly the opposite.”
“She consistently compliments the group and tells the team how fortunate she feels to be a part of a very cool, tight-knit group of people.”
On one occasion this past season, Mitchell was trying to figure out everyone’s spirit animal. She rarely gets stumped and couldn’t get past Kate. Asking the other assistants, nobody could pinpoint her animal, let alone one main quality without listing another five.
Research had to be done.
After some deliberation and a trip to Starbucks, Mitchell Googled “fierce mothers in nature.”
“Kate Kinley: Army Octopus” was the original title of this article, but Mitchell wisely advised against it. Nevertheless, an octopus is what Mitchell dubbed as Kinley’s spirit animal.
“An octopus was one of the animals that came up because they lay tens of thousands of eggs in different places and then fend off predators until they are born,” said Mitchell. “Kate is fiercely loyal and protective of her friends and teammates. I like to think of her teammates as eggs that she’s protecting and when they hatch and graduate they’ll be better people for having been defended by Kate Kinley.”
Closing my interview with Kinley, I asked her what was her favorite part of the team. Cliché question, but I knew I would get a strong team-focused, heart-felt, and Kate Kinley-ish answer.
“My favorite part? Gosh, can ‘everything’ be an answer?”
“I’m not myself when I’m not swimming with my teammates regularly. If I had to choose, the greatest joy I get from the team is the ability to gain such a respect, trust, and love for one another without having to discuss it.”
It’s this dynamic personality that captured the Army West Point coaches during the recruiting process, endeared her teammates for three years, and will ultimately make her one of the best Army officers.