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NEWS & MEDIA

TILLMAN TUESDAY: Scholar Annie Kleiman’s Experience as a CST Member Sparked her Interest in Conflict Reduction and Prevention

Pat Tillman Foundation Communications   |   By Jill Walsh, Communications Manager   |   March 21, 2017
2015 Tillman Scholar Annie Kleiman served five years active duty in the U.S. Air Force and currently still serves in the reserves

Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we learn more about 2015 Tillman Scholar Annie Kleiman who graduated in May, 2016 from Tufts University with her Masters in International Affairs. Annie deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as a Cultural Support Team (CST) member, ultimately sparking her passion for making a positive impact in conflict reduction and prevention.

 Tillman Tuesday Tidbits:

  • Annie was born in China and moved with her family to the United States around the age of five
  • She grew up in Utah throughout her elementary school and junior high, and high school years
  • Annie’s husband served as a pilot in the Air Force for 12 years active duty and now currently serves with the New Jersey Air National Guard as an Air Liaison Officer
  • Prior to currently serving in the Air Force reserves, Annie served five years active duty

 WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

“I was enamored with Civil Air Patrol (the official Air Force auxiliary) at a very young age. The more I did it the more I liked it – wearing an Air Force uniform, the structure, the comraderie and leadership. The cadets got to run the program – as a 13-year-old I was setting meeting agendas and running lesson plans. When I was first looking at colleges I had it in my head that I wanted to get in to NASA and be an Astronaut, so I figured I’d join the Air Force, do research, and go in to space – it would have been the best of all worlds coming together.”

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE ROLE AS A CST MEMBER UPON JOINING THE AIR FORCE?

“Being in and part of combat was not really on my radar when I joined the Air Force but my husband actually heard about the program while he was deployed supporting those missions on the ground. He kept telling me about the CST program and I thought about joining but being in the Air Force and it being an Army program, I thought there was no way they would take me. However, by pure luck they opened up the program to women in AFSOC for six months and I was able to apply and get selected.”

WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU LEARNED ABOUT WORKING AS A CST THAT YOU DIDN’T REALIZE BEFOREHAND?

“I was really surprised by the reaction from the local women I got to work with. We were in their houses looking for bad guys at 2 in the morning, but some of the women who told me they were glad we were there – which to me was really surprising as I expected hostility and not as much compliance. Overall there were more positive reactions than I expected.”

HOW DID WORKING WITH THE CST TEAM INSPIRE YOUR CAREER PATH IN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS?

“My role in working with the CST is such a microcosm of much larger issues in international engagement and how gender plays a role in international relations. Before CST I didn’t think about gender much when it comes to international security. It also sparked my interest in gender policy within the U.S. Government. At the time when I was a CST we were technically not allowed in ground combat but were walking right with the Seal and Ranger teams. The JAG told us that we weren’t ‘co-located’ with the combat unit – we were 10 feet back.  I saw firsthand how policy affects things at the tactical level. After working with the CST, I focused on international security and human security – loosely defined as freedom from systemic discrimination, poverty and other stressors – sparking my wider interests while studying in grad school.”

HAVING GRADUATED THIS PAST MAY, WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY DOING?

“I am currently on orders with the Air Force serving as the Deputy Director of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Foreign Language office where we do policy oversight of the foreign language program for intelligence personnel. That includes how we recruit, train and retain in the foreign policy language program on a strategic level. With that being said, it’s a temporary position but I am looking at a few other career options.

I’m in the process of applying for the FBI Special Agent track – it’s been a long process but steady forward movement. I also applied for a position at ideas42, a “non-profit” consulting firm that uses behavioral science concepts to develop projects for social good. They work with a variety of partners, ranging from private sector to government entities.”

WITH ALL OF THE OPPORTUNITIES YOU’RE PURSUING, WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL DREAM JOB?

“I’m struggling with this a little bit as I’m trying to clearly define the one thing I actually want to do and not be stressed about it. I recently heard some advice that has helped out with the stress level in regards to people finding their one passion or whatever it is that they’re meant to do. They recommend people map out three really different career paths they would be happy doing. It helps people realize though there may be three really different things, an individual could be happy doing any one of the three. With that being said, I’m okay with whatever comes my way.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE A TILLMAN SCHOLAR AND BE PART OF THE SCHOLAR COMMUNITY?

“It’s very humbling and great being in the company of individuals doing amazing things. We always joke about the ‘shame spiral’ when all of us Tillman Scholars are together. It’s great just to have the network of Tillman Scholars to draw on if I ever need help with something – it feels like a family. I still feel like I’m connected even though I’m out of school.”

WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?

“FBI Application – phase 2 (in-person interviews) in May. Fellowship application – applying for funding to write a book about my family’s experiences during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. My parents were pulled out of school and did manual labor in rural villages for about 10 years, and my grandparents were thrown in jail. I wrote my master’s thesis on this topic, but had to take out so much information that I’d like to turn it into a book. Ideas42 – I just got a job offer from them and I’ll likely be starting with them as a senior associate in October after I complete my Air Force reserve obligations. And despite all that stuff I said about being less stressed with three equally viable career paths, now I’m scheming about how I can do all three. (The plan so far – work on the book part time while working at ideas42, and do the FBI thing a few years from now.)”

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS THROUGHOUT YOUR SERVICE IN THE MILITARY AND BEING A TILLMAN SCHOLAR?

“Overall I’ve learned to not give in to self-imposed limitations. When I joined the military I just took it for granted that women didn’t go into combat and it didn’t occur to me to challenge it or change it because I just accepted it. Along the same lines, getting to meet Tillman Scholars during the Leadership Summit and seeing the things one or two individuals can do if they put their mind to it was amazing. Hearing some of their stories and seeing people throw caution into the wind and just go do rather than worry about what might happen if they fail. Hearing stories of other Tillman Scholars is so inspiring and in the military not accepting limitations that are not a reflection of society.”