Kelso High School junior Kali Tokuoka has known since she was 11 that she wanted to join the military. She comes from a military background: Three uncles had served in both the Army and the Navy.
What she didn’t know until she enlisted recently is that she would make history when she joined. When Kali, 17, begins basic training next summer, she’ll be the first woman recruited from the Longview-Kelso area to enlist in a combat role with the Army.
But when she approached local army recruiters Sgt. Norman Smith and Sgt. Cody Ledbetter, she still wasn’t sure what job she wanted.
With a natural aptitude for science and math, Kali, a 3.7 GPA student, finally settled on the position of fire control specialist: She will be responsible for operating the data systems for artillery and multiple launch rockets, recording firing data from combat and providing fire support for infantry and tank units during combat.
The artillery specialist position was one of many combat positions within the U.S. Army that was not open to women until last year. The Pentagon announced in December 2015 that it would overturn its “combat exclusion policy” that banned women from combat roles, despite the fact that many women in the military had seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan despite being assigned “non-combat” roles.
It was estimated that this decision opened approximately 220,000 military jobs to women.
“I’m a little nervous but I think I can do it,” Kali said Thusday. “I feel like I’ll struggle a little bit through basic (training), but I feel like it’s made for that.”
Sgt. Ledbetter and Sgt. Smith assured that Kali would be ready for the challenge.
“She’s very quiet, but during physical fitness (training) you can tell,” Ledbetter said. “It comes out. And you can just − not judging a book by its cover − but she impresses us big time. She’s going to be very successful.”
Smith agreed that the recruiters at the Longview-Kelso center had been waiting to see who the first female would be.
“She’s breaking ground on a lot of fronts,” Smith said.
While Kali’s mother, Trina Brown, attended her swearing-in ceremony Thursday in Vancouver to support her daughter’s decision, she said she’s still nervous.
“That’s the thing that scares me. She’ll be out in the field if there’s ever a war,” Brown said. “And I think there’s going to be another (war) with the president we have now.”
Kali also has two siblings, a 14-year-old sister and an 8-year-old brother. Kali said her sister wasn’t thrilled with her decision.
“She doesn’t want me to leave,” Kali said.
Brown said she went through the same nerves with her brothers who served. Brown’s brother, Tommy, was in the Navy during the Gulf War.
“I’ve been through this with two brothers. (Tommy) worked in the boiler room on a ship,” Brown said. “If his ship ever got bombed, he would have been dead.”
When Kali graduates from high school in June next year, she’ll have about two weeks before she leaves for basic training and job training at Fort Sill, Okla. Born and raised in Cowlitz County, Kali said she’s never been farther away from home than Hawaii.
Basic training will last for nine weeks, Sgt. Ledbetter said, and then Kali will continue on to job training.
“All my life I was told that I couldn’t do things like that” because she’s a woman, Kali said. “So it’s kind of something to prove to myself.”
Contact Daily News reporter Madelyn Reese at 360-577-2523
Из-за спины Беккера появилось лицо Смита. - Слушаю, сэр. - Мне кажется, мистер Беккер опаздывает на свидание.