Air Force Officer, Meteorologist, Outdoorswoman, Environmentalist, Misawa, Japan

To know her is to love her. I will share Kat’s latest email here, so you get an idea of what I’m talking about:

“OLGA!! I made it up and down Kilimanjaro without dying so I am calling the climb a “GREAT SUCCESS!” It ended up being SO much harder than I expected. However, I did close to zero research before I went (kind of how I live my life) so maybe that was for the better. Did not exactly realize what I was getting myself into.  It rained nearly every day which led to not ideal hiking conditions. And one day, our group was truly tested with this constant downpour of rain turned sleet that seemed to make it everywhere: through our rain gear, in our tents, in my “waterproof” duffel with all of my extra clothes. Let’s just say it was a “trying” day for everyone, hahaha!  Then there was the daily headache… I had never been above 10K ft so had no idea how my body would react to the decrease of oxygen. Well, we went past 10K ft on the second day so I quickly learned that my head was NOT a fan. The rest of my body was great, but it took a lot of grit to get past the pounding and keep going.

Then the summit. Oh boy, was that a treat. I honestly just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and tell myself that I would eventually get to the top, and, you know what? I did. All week too I was thinking, if it is raining today, then maybe by summit night it will be clear. And it was!! Seriously the perfect weather. The stars were so close it seemed like I could reach out and touch them. Milky Way was lookin’ good that night too.

So, was it overall pretty miserable during the climb? Yes. But was it a life experience? Yes.”

Please enjoy the (extended) Q/A with Kat Meinig.

1. Name.

Katherine Meinig.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

2. Where is your hometown?

Paola, Kansas.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

Air Force Officer, Meteorologist, Outdoor Enthusiast, Environmentalist, Animal Lover

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?

I grew up on a farm, and for a while, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then my eyes turned toward the sky, and I knew I wanted to be a pilot. I am not from a military family, but I learned about the Air Force Academy and decided that was the route for me. However, going into my senior year of high school, I started having second thoughts about the Academy and eventually declined. Long story short, I graduated from high school not knowing where I was going to college.

I ended up at Iowa State University with a technical scholarship and found my way into the meteorology program. As a junior, I applied to be a pilot, but was the only person in my class that was denied a slot. After a little research, I learned the Air Force was not allowing meteorologists outside of the career field. While disappointed at first, I like to believe everything happens for a reason, and I am exactly where I need to be!

5. What did you study in school?

With my technical scholarship through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), I had a short list of majors to choose from, and I found myself in the meteorology program. While I adore the STEM field, my passions are language, people, and culture.

During my senior year, I was extremely fortunate and got accepted into a Department of Defense program called, Project GO which is an initiative to promote critical language education, study abroad, and intercultural dialogue. I attended James Madison University for an intensive Swahili course and spent two months in Kenya for a cultural immersion. I stayed with two families and traveled the entire country. By far the best experience in college.

6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

With military life, you never really know what your future holds, and I learned that early on. I wanted to be a pilot, but the Air Force needed me to be a weather officer. While flying would have be awesome, I am thankful for every experience that I have had as a weather officer!

7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?

While not getting a pilot slot was disappointing at first, I firmly believe I am exactly where I need to be. All it took to get over was a mindset shift, and I was ready for the next adventure. 

8. Advice for other women?

Take care of yourself and be completely you, always.

9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?

I definitely believe this is a movement and not a moment so this is the exact time to be all that we can be. The list of firsts for women in the 2018 US midterm election was huge, and the number of women taking on this movement across the world is remarkable.

10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

Outdoors. My list of outdoor hobbies is quickly expanding as I move around the world, and I love it.

11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

It was not until my first assignment that I discovered my love for mountains and hiking. Last summer, I was invited to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with a group from around the world, and I am heading there in a few days! I have never been at altitude so this will be a great test for the mind and body.

12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?

Happy and healthy! If I had to ask for a dream job though, it would have to be a National Geographic photographer. I can never get enough of the landscapes and animals the world has to show us.

13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

Luckily, this list is short, but the fear of disappointing family, friends, coworkers, and leadership. I feel like these folks put a lot of faith in me, and I never want to let them down.

14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?

Honestly? No. I think I am exactly where I need to be, and every experience and decision has made me the person I am today.

15. What inspires you?

I love reading stories from Humans of New York and listening to stories from the Podcast, StoryCorps. Both bring stories of people from around the world. People who have overcome hardship, people who are reconnecting. I am constantly amazed and inspired by humanity when I see and hear these stories.

16. What are you hopeful about?

Planet Earth and humanity. It is easy for me to get down with all these worldwide issues (conflict, famine, climate change, etc.), but I am reminded every so often that we are a resilient and innovative species and little by little we can make changes for the better.

17. What are some ingredients to a good life?

Family, friends, adventure.

18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

Cherish every minute with my family and friends. As a teenager, I could not wait to grow up, go to college, and start my adult life, but I did not realize what I would be losing. There is a blog post called The Tail End by Tim Urban, and he laid out the human lifespan visually. While most of the visuals are funny and lighthearted (e.g., graphics for the number of pizzas and Chinese dumplings left to eat in his life… hilarious), he calculates the time left to spend with his parents. By the time he graduated high school, he had already spent 93% of the time, and by 34, he used another 2%. He is now in the last 5%.

So my takeaway? Treat every minute I spend with the people I love as precious.

19. Do you feel the need to embody less “feminine” traits to be taken seriously?

I do not, but I was once told that I was too “bubbly” and needed to tone down my personality in order to be taken seriously. So I tried it for a week, and it was exhausting. I decided at that moment to always be myself. 

20. Do you think you get a presumption of credibility similar to your male counterparts (assuming they do)?

This may be different in other branches of the military, but I feel like most young officers in the Air Force have to prove themselves to gain credibility regardless of gender.

21. Do you feel pressure to work harder to appear as competent as your male counterparts?

There was a moment early on in my career where I had to work harder and fight to get the same opportunities as a male counterpart, but not anymore!

22. Do you have a difficult time building mentoring relationships, either as a mentor or mentee, with males for fear of being misunderstood (i.e. date as opposed to a cup of coffee for networking/insight etc.)

Fortunately, I have been able to build great relationships with leaders across the Air Force without having the fear of being misunderstood.

23. Do you find it difficult to balance wanting to be treated like a woman sometimes (whatever that means to you) versus wanting to be treated like a boss?

I think I find a good balance with being a woman and being a boss. I know there are parts of my personality that make it harder to be a boss, but those same traits make it easier to connect with the people I am leading.

24. Do you think being a female helps you in certain situations? Hurts you in others? (and similar question: What are the advantages to being a woman in a male dominated industry?)

Women are a minority in the military so sometimes being female does help! Like Blitz mentioned, it is easier to stand out when you do well, but conversely, when we make a mistake, it might be harder to recover.

25. What stereotypes about service men are generally true? Which ones unfair?

The military is really a reflection of society. Each branch and career field generally have a stereotype associated with them, and you learn that sometimes those stereotypes are true, but we need every personality, background, skillset to operate.

26. Do you feel valued by your colleagues?

I certainly do. I am very lucky when it comes to the people I have worked with and worked for.

27. What are your career goals? (in other words, where do you see yourself in 5-10 years from now?)

My dream in the Air Force is to become a Foreign Area Officer.  I would become a regional and language expert and use that knowledge to build relations with global partners.

28. What are the challenges you face as a female managing men and what has helped you to overcome those challenges?

I have been lucky and not had many issues with the men I have worked with. I did have one situation with an individual who still had some “old school” beliefs about women and women in the military, but hopefully fewer and far in between across the military.

29. Does it matter that you are a female? If yes, why/what?

It does! I believe in strength in diversity whether that be by gender, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, etc. The military is male dominated, but the more diverse we can become, I think the stronger we will become.

30. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

Current read is A Man Called Ove. It is about an unexpected friendship between a cranky old man and his energetic young neighbors. Recent reads and strong recommendations are Beyond the Limits: A Woman’s Triumph on Everest – an extremely inspiring book about Stacy Allison, the first American woman to climb Everest and Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – I hate running, but I absolutely love this book!

31. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?

Dr. Jennifer Coffman. She is the director for the James Madison University East Africa Field School which I participated in through Project GO. Her research and teaching focus a lot on Kenya. Her love for East Africa and hatred of plastic waste is contagious!

Colonel Kara Neuse. I was lucky enough to work for Col Neuse a year before she retired from the Air Force. She dedicated 24 years of service to her country, had an extremely successful career, has a beautiful family, and is now spending her retirement in the mountains.  

Alex Hanson. A fellow service member, world traveler, and an inspiring athlete. This girl has done the South Pole Marathon, the North Pole Marathon, a marathon across a frozen lake in Russia. Love keeping up with her adventures!

32. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?

Online footprint is small so you could find me, but it would be quite boring for you. My instagram is @jambopaka (means ‘hi cat’ in swahili)