This week for Women’s History Month, we are spotlighting U.S. Air Force Reservist Annie Kleiman.
Kleiman is a 2015 Tillman Scholar who is currently on active duty as the Program Manager of the Junior Officer GEOINT Program at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Kleiman spent her adolescent and teenage years in the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force. Excited by regular visits to the local Air Force base, it became clear she wanted this to be in her future.
“I started in C.A.P. when I was eleven and knew I wanted to join the Air Force from there,” Kleiman said. “I fell in love with the military training environment, especially learning the ways they help with search and rescue missions and aerospace education.”
Kleiman deployed to Qatar in 2006, her first of four deployments in Qatar, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Following three tours of duty, her final deployment shifted from the ground level intel work to serving as part of the Air Force’s Special Operations Command’s Cultural Support Team in Afghanistan.
“My job was to search, question, and reassure these women during missions.” Kleiman said. “As I saw their living conditions and developed a connection with them, it became natural to want to help them empower themselves, but that wasn’t part of our job. I needed to stay focused on what I was there to do, which was to get the information we needed to keep our team safe, and protect these women and children if conditions got dicey.”
Kleiman’s role changed during the second half of her deployment, when she trained female Afghan soldiers to serve with male Afghan special operations teams. While she was proud to empower these women, Kleiman knew female soldiers adopting military tactics contradicted the gender norms of the local culture.
“As their training progressed, we would hear stories of a woman who was beaten by her husband because her pay was delayed, or our trainees having to buy their own boots because the Afghan military couldn’t supply the right size,” Kleiman said. “They also weren’t allowed to eat in the same dining hall (as the men), and had their own compound that was fenced off. It really shed a light on gender dynamics and made me think ‘What can we actually do to make their lives better? How can we help an Afghan woman serving in special operations avoid being beaten? How can we make positive changes that will stick?”
Since finishing her final tour in 2016, Kleiman has been able to meet many scholars, allowing her to connect with a diverse community of fellow service members. Making these connections has also led to her to attend regional conferences and participate in group panel discussions to share stories from her service with a wide spectrum of people.
“In my experience at regional conferences, I have found the Tillman Scholar community to be very diverse,” she said. “I’ve been a part of it for six years and the only demographic I have yet to meet is a male spouse. But overall, I’ve felt like the audience for panel discussions is typically made up of military members and spouses from pretty diverse backgrounds.”
Since finishing her master’s degree from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 2016, Kleiman has worked on the Headquarters Air Force Staff, a non-profit behavioral design lab focusing on women’s health, and is currently back in uniform at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where she manages fellowship programs for military service members to train to become technical geospatial intelligence experts within the military.
“What I find most rewarding about my current position is knowing the impact of the programs I manage. My job is to ensure our programs instill the proper training for technical geospatial intelligence experts for the military,” she said. “It’s cool to watch the growth of these service members as they turn the skills they build at NGA into assets the military can use someday.”