Petite and self-described as girlish, Kimberly Walker says few of her classmates at California State University, Dominguez Hills know she’s in the military. While that might be the case, soon, lawmakers and visitors to the State Capitol in Sacramento will be made aware of her service.
The senior majoring in business with a concentration in accounting is among 10 veteran or active service students, alumni, faculty and staff of CSU campuses chosen by the CSU Office of the Chancellor to have their images and stories showcased in a display in the State Capitol during the week of Veterans Day (Nov. 11). The banners will line the Capitol halls as part of a celebration of veterans and the CSU’s initiative and commitment to serving those who serve.
Walker is representing the Air Force branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The 22-year-old senior airman is currently serving in the Air National Guard as a munitions specialist—one of only four women in that position for the 144th Fighter Wing at the Fresno Air National Guard Base.
Following in the footsteps of her father, a former marine and retired army officer, Walker enlisted in the military in 2011. She chose the Air Guard (as it is often called) because it allowed her to continue to care for her young daughter—Sierra, now 4—while still serving her country.
“In order for me to do active duty, I would have had to give all of my rights up to my daughter, since I wasn’t married, and I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “So I thought guard; I still get the rights to my daughter and I get to be in the military. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Walker went through the eight and a half weeks of basic training—which she said was the most difficult thing she’s ever done—and graduated in March 2011. She followed that up with Air Guard tech school for two months to train for her job, which entails, among other things, accounting for and transporting munitions to the flight lines.
Being that Walker’s service in the Air Guard is one weekend a month and two to three weeks during the year, it also has afforded her the opportunity to continue her schooling at CSU Dominguez Hills. Much like her decision to go into the military, her choice of universities also was heavily influenced by her father; CSU Dominguez Hills is his alma mater (Oscar Walker, Class of 1981, B.A., sociology).
“Everything I’ve done is for him and because of him,” she said, adding that her daughter now plays an equally important role in her decision-making process. “The reason I’m in school is for her, so I can provide for her.”
Juggling motherhood, military and school hasn’t been easy for Walker. Her first semester at CSU Dominguez Hills, Walker made the decision to leave her daughter with her parents in the central town of Tulare, Calif., where Walker grew up. She would make the three-hour drive each weekend to be with her. Now, it’s just the two of them in Southern California. Walker said her civilian life is pretty much her coursework and Sierra.
The military life is still part of her while at CSU Dominguez Hills. Soon after its opening in 2011, Walker began working at the Veteran Student Programs office in the Loker Student Union, assisting other veteran or active service students like herself as they navigate a non-military institution.
“A lot of people coming out of the military don’t understand how life works out here; it’s a lot different,” she explained. “You get a lot of help in the military and out here, you’re kind of thrown to the sharks, on your own…. We help them with the transition.
“For the most part I do feel like I can help them, because I do know what it feels like to be in the military; I do know that life. When I came to this school, I was feeling the same thing because I was so used to military life, and when I moved back I came straight here. So it was hard, and I know what it feels like to not really understand. It’s culture shock.”
While Walker is getting her degree to ensure a better life for her and her daughter, she’s also at university for another reason; it will allow her to rise through the military ranks. She would like to get her commission as an officer, a move that requires not only passing a series of tests but also a college degree. Doing so would make her the first female officer in her family.
“You have more of a supervisory role, and I do want to do that. I do want to lead,” she said confidently.
Walker said that being in the military has given her that air of confidence. It’s been one of the biggest benefits of joining the Air Guard, and it began those two months in basic training.
“It’s the confidence that I love the most,” she said. “What they put you through tears you down but then they build you back up to make you believe in yourself…. You come out feeling so amazing, and I think that’s when I was like, ‘Yeah, I made the right decision.’”
Walker takes her resolve into her focused approach to her future. Once she graduates she plans to become a certified public accountant and work in the field of accounting forensics in the public sector. She intends to continue her service in the Air Guard beyond the required six-year commitment and give 10 years, eventually transitioning out of her role as a munitions specialist and obtaining a position in finance.
“If I switch into a finance job and I really love it, who knows, I may be there for 20 years,” she said.