JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Since early childhood, Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Kimberly Daugherty has admired service members, especially those who fly. The shiny wings displayed on their uniforms instilled in her a sense of wonder. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always responded with the same answer: an astronaut or pilot.
Unfortunately, her dreams were dashed when her parents told her she would never fly due to poor eyesight. At an early age, she started wearing glasses to correct her vision.
"My dream was already squashed by the time I was 6 years old; I didn't know what avenues I had," Daugherty said.
Resigned to disappointment, Daugherty continued a life without direction.
"After graduating high school, I was working in useless jobs that weren't going anywhere," Daugherty said. "It was just working to work."
Before long, she found herself working as a blood donor technician at a local mall. Little did she know, her life was about change for the better.
One day, she found herself assisting a uniformed member, who happened to be a recruiter and flight officer. Over several visits, Daugherty said he continually spoke to her and seemed to constantly present a professional image.
"I didn't know what officer was or enlisted was, but I knew I could be aircrew, so I said 'sign me up," Daugherty said. "As soon as I found that out, my entire perspective changed."
Daugherty said she didn't imagine herself in the military. She changed her mind when she found out she could fly even if she didn't have perfect eyesight. Before long, Daugherty enlisted in the Alaska Air National Guard as a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster.
"I had a friend that had just completed the training who said, 'Is it impossible? No. Is it something you can do? Yes. And it's worth it when you finish,'" Daugherty said.
After basic military training, she attended the Basic Loadmaster Course, which was followed by water survival-parachute training; and survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) training.
"SERE training was scary and intimidating," Daugherty said. "It's something I will never forget, and every time I think about a zombie apocalypse, I think SERE training."
After nine months of training, Daugherty emerged as a qualified Alaska ANG’s 249th Airlift Squadron C-17 loadmaster. Upon completing her initial training, she returned home and served a short active-duty tour for follow-on flight training.
"(It) was stressful, rewarding and definitely worth it," she said. "It's not easy, but it's worth it once you get through it. Earning my enlisted aircrew wings, I'll never forget that day."
Once, while on a flight, Daugherty said some pilots asked her why she didn't get her real wings.
"I was insulted, but it made me realize that I wanted to get my pilot wings," Daugherty said.
To further her personal and professional goals, Daugherty enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage to pursue a commercial flying license, as well as taking lessons at the Elmendorf Aero Club to get her private pilot license.
According to Wally Hansen, the chief flight instructor at the aero club, the club not only supports recreational pursuits, but also supports the military mission by providing training and certification requirements for service members who are pursuing flight careers.
Determined to succeed, she has remained focused and continued her education and flight training.
"I can watch the Guard pilots all day long, take what I learn from them and apply it to a different aircraft," Daugherty said. "The fundamentals are the same."
According to Daugherty, falling back on education and training makes all the difference.
"I used to be scared and nervous to fly solo and land, but now that I completed my first solo, I'm not scared anymore," Daugherty said.
Overcoming fear and anxiety is an integral part of the flying mission. Daugherty said real-word experience can't be replaced by a classroom or a book.
"Anyone can learn to fly a plane, but it's the ones that work the best under stress that the Air Force wants," Daugherty said.
Although flight training is known to be challenging in Alaska's environment, Daugherty's ambitions fuel her drive.
"Alaska's weather is a blessing and a curse, (when learning to fly,)" Daugherty said. "It's taken me longer than I wanted to, but that's nobody's fault, it's just the nature of the beast."
Staying positive and focused is the only way forward.
"They say if you do what you love, it's not work anymore," Daugherty said. "The aero club is a club, but it's also a family. It's cool because you surround yourself with people who have the same passion as you."
Daugherty said she finds inspiration from a quote by World War I flying ace Maj. Eddie Rickenbacker, who said, "Aviation is proof that if given the will we have the capacity to achieve the impossible."
"It's an attitude," Daugherty said. 'What can you do,' not 'What can't you do?'