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BTS Behind the Scenes: Meet Team Lead/Advisor Kathy Carlson

BTS Behind the Scenes is a chance to showcase the people who are making things happen at BTS and give you a “behind the scenes” look into their worlds. In this month’s feature we’ll talk with Team Lead/Advisor Kathy Carlson and talk about cat herding, leadership, wins, losses, and life.

You’re incredibly active in the community and with various veterans’ organizations- tell us what drives you to serve in these ways.

I have always been service-oriented. My family and early experiences built that into me prior to my entering the Army. The Army only strengthened my thoughts and need to serve and give back to the community, those in need, and specifically Comrades. A friend of mine once said that everyone has some sort of PTS, it is up to them how they deal with it. It does not need to be someone in the military or a Veteran. I believe that one of my ways of dealing is to give back and pay it forward to others. If I can support those in need, be present when someone just needs a Comrade, a shoulder, or a friend, or assist others through mentorship, coaching, and supporting, then I am helping myself to learn, grow, and deal as well.

We heard your home is a certified wildlife refuge… What’s that about?

The National Wildlife Federation has an opportunity on its website to certify your home, school, or place of worship gardens and grounds as a Wildlife habitat in their name to support local wildlife and flora ( Our home borders a county wetland and woodland preserve, we love to support local plants and animals, and the Earth. We get an opportunity to support a great charity while also learning about local plants and animals as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. The National Wildlife Federation also lets folks “adopt” certain wild animals, which is a donation to their fund to support those animals.  You get adoption paperwork, photos, and a plush toy of that animal. I have started doing things like that for gifts for folks who neither want nor need “stuff” for birthdays and holidays. It goes back to continuing to improve the foxhole, so to speak. 

So, you’re an expert in herding cats? What’s the secret? (literally and figuratively!)

So..herding cats and people (sometimes even marines ;)) can be a similar venture. I think that the main priorities are to recognize individual and collective strengths and weaknesses, open the lines of communication (all directions), and give everyone their space and opportunity to accel in their “box,” “cube,” or comfort zone while also enabling and supporting them to expand their knowledge and spheres. Probably the single most important piece, though, is a predictable and steady routine…. such as feeding time and place. I am not sure that anyone can ever be an expert at herding because there is always an outlier to help us learn more. The bottom line is to have standards, be consistent, be present, be understanding, keep your sense of humor, be a good human, and most of all, be KIND.

What are some skills you learned in the trenches that were essential building blocks in shaping how you lead now?

I joined the Army at 18 and graduated from US Army Airborne School on my 19th birthday. I have had the opportunity to deploy, train, and exercise all over the world. Airborne school and my first assignment at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty) taught me much about leadership. In Jump school, I was one of four women to graduate in my class of over 400. We started with about 40 women at the beginning of Zero Week. I moved on to Fort Bragg, where I was one of three women in a company of more than 160 Troopers. I learned that I needed to prove myself daily but that there were those who championed me and my efforts. I sought out opportunities to excel and to separate myself from my peers, and looked for leaders and mentors. I also learned that life, and the Army, was not always fair. Not being fair did not mean that I was not able to continue to thrive and make a tapestry of leaders from which to pattern myself. This tapestry includes good, bad, and people that fall into both categories. 

Throughout my career in the military, I was tested, allowed to fail, and recover (for the most part – refer back to the tapestry). I learned that in the often ugliness of war, conflict, and atrocities there can still be beauty and goodness. I learned again and again that life and war are not fair. I learned that when it is your, or your Soldier’s, time, it is not your decision, and not fair to them, their family, or friends. But you survive and support as best as you can, understanding at some level that their sphere of influence is now larger and better than ever before. I learned that you continue to excel and support because it is necessary. You have to continue to follow your own guidance to your Troopers and to finish what you start – get the paper (even if it takes you 42 years). And most important of all, in some aspects, give Chief coffee, because murder is wrong.

What was your transition out of active duty like? What helped you the most during this time?

I would say that my transition out of the military was somewhat rocky at times but pretty smooth once I gained some speed and time out. I was, and am, so very lucky to have people in my life who were able and willing to step in to help me in all facets of my transition. I was not ready to retire when I did, but had friends and colleagues who recognized that and helped me through my retirement while preparing me for the hiring and onboarding into my new job. People, People, People were the most helpful and important to me for the last 10 ½ years. I have incredible mentors, family, framily, friends, and colleagues who continue to support and mentor me to this day. I have depended on them, but also on my background of wanting to learn, experience, and build more capabilities within myself. I also continue my priority of teaching, coaching, and mentoring others. Keeping these in mind, working with other Veterans and active duty folks is a mission that helps clear my mind and supports my soul.

You also have connections with the Army Band out of Ft. Meade, tell us more about that.

I have a friend whose father was a member and then conductor of the Army field band. He was a principal clarinetist and a WW2 Veteran. For his 100th birthday, the field band sent two musicians to his home to celebrate at his party. It was an honor to be a part of that. I have also gotten to chat with and listen to a part of the team at the VFW National convention. Most recently, though, being close to Fort Meade, where the band is based, allowed our VFW to support them and also highlight support for Veterans by participating in an Army-produced music video for Veterans Day. It was a great time and honor to be part of the video and the message.

What do you hope to bring to BTS in the coming months in your role?

My desire is to bring some of my background and expertise to support not only the Army, but also other missions and people in BTS. I have not been really great with change, but this move is showing me that I can continue with missions, friends, and opportunities here as well as where I began. While I learned a lot before, I want to share that knowledge and also knowledge of possible opportunities or partnerships with others to continue to better support the mission and people. I would like to bring and share my excitement for the mission, learning, and Veterans to support the core values and opportunities of BTS moving forward.

Lightning Round!

  • Go-to snack: Popcorn – Homemade is the best!!
  • Favorite holiday movie: A Year Without a Santa Claus 
  • Favorite place on the planet: Hawaii
  • Person from history you’d most like to meet: GEN George S. Patton

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.” George S. Patton

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