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Park High School's first female Junior ROTC leader no stranger to breaking barriers

Chief Master Sgt. Kathy Roby Ret. is a new aerospace instructor for the Park High School Air Force Junior ROTC program replacing Sgt. Gerry Ellis who retired in June. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

If those who attended the Veterans Day celebration at Park High School in early November noticed changes in the ceremony, they need only look as far as retired Chief Master Sgt. Kathy Roby.

Roby joined the Air Force Junior ROTC program in September as an aerospace instructor. One of the changes she made to the Veterans Day ceremony two months later was to add a cordon of Junior ROTC cadets saluting veterans as they entered the school and assembled to go into the ceremony together.

Roby, 54, retired from the Air Force for seven years, said in an interview that she's always wanted to be an aerospace instructor for ROTC.

"We're lucky to have her," said aerospace instructor and retired Lt. Col. Larry Brockshus.

Roby began her Air Force career as she graduated high school. Living in Excelsior, on the west side of the Twin Cities, she felt she needed structure in her life.

"I wanted to be part of something," she said.

After basic training, she was an aircraft electrician "turning wrenches," she said.

Though she doesn't think of herself as a pioneer for women in military service, she might fit that description.

A year before she enlisted, women hoping to sign up for the Air Force were given evening gowns to wear as part of the qualifying process.

When Roby enlisted, the evening gown stint was over.

"I was a woman in a man's field," she said. "We were all new in a different way. We were breaking ground so we got tough."

The situation motivated her to "make rank," where she could make changes.

But the Air Force has come a long way in a short time, according to Roby. The first female fighter pilot flew 14 years ago and now those who are openly gay and lesbian can serve.

She was one of 14 women to make "chief" and did it in 18 years, a shorter time than others achieve the rank.

The first female chiefs were 1 percent of 1 percent of the Air Force.

"The Air Force was changing," she said.

In service, she's been at bases in California, Alaska, Michigan and Germany, where she met her husband.

At the end of her enlisted career, she was command chief master sergeant in charge of discipline and "well-being" of 4,000 enlisted personnel.

"I'm a very humble person," Roby said. "So many women have gone before me such as those who flew planes in World War II."

She retired from the service and took over as director of the local humane society in Minot that was $60,000 in debt.

Again, plowing new ground, she was hired as director. A year later, the society was $20,000 on the plus side.

"You start over and rebuild with people," she said, but in three years she was ready to move on to her next task.

Always somewhere else when her immediate family celebrated important events, she decided it was time to move back to Minnesota and get reacquainted with her father, who was ill, and two brothers.

In time, her father died, but Roby felt she had spent meaningful time with him as the main caregiver.

In starting another career as the first female aerospace instructor at Park, she said she is "so proud" of the way cadets and officers conducted themselves this year at the Veterans Day cerebration.

"This was their chance," Roby said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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