The sound of fire from the main gun of the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank rattled the surrounding area as One Station Unit Training armor students from A Company, 1st Battalion, 81st Armored Regiment, 194th Armored Brigade, prepared themselves for their turn on the 120mm cannon.
One of the trainees, Pvt. 1st Class Kristie Hawley, a 43-year-old mother and teacher, was fulfilling a dream that began before she graduated high school.
“I always wanted to be in the Army at a young age, and when I graduated high school that was the plan,” she said.
But her plans were put on hold while she attended college to pursue teaching, a choice she does not regret. “I absolutely love teaching, I love the classroom, I love my students,” said Hawley. “I teach at the same high school I graduated from.”
While teaching students about developing career and life skills, Hawley invited recruiters from all branches of service to talk to her students about how to develop opportunities available in the military.
“I always [told my students] ‘don’t let your dreams go by,’” she said. “You have a dream … be determined and do it, because it’s your dream.”
Her students took her message to heart and soon asked her why she was not following her own advice. “In 2019, my group of students said ‘well, Hawley, why aren’t you doing it now?’”
That was the catalyst she needed to finally follow through with her aspiration of serving in the Army. It aligned perfectly with a scheduled visit from a local Army recruiter, who helped her get started on her journey as a member of the Kansas National Guard.
Hawley said her longer-than-typical life experience prepared her for the rigors of One Station Unit Training.
“I think I can pivot easier … than the [younger recruits] can,” she said. “It’s easier for me to take criticism and not take it to heart … to understand why instead of being upset about it.”
The greatest challenge for her so far has been being apart from her family, including her husband who Hawley said is her best friend. She is thankful, though, that she can speak with him regularly.
“Not being able to talk to my husband everyday has been difficult,” she said. “Sometimes, I just need that ear … and [when we do speak] he says ‘I’m proud of you, you got this!’”
Hawley said she draws motivation not only from her family, but the younger recruits she’s training with as well. “Meeting these young ladies and young men and hearing their stories — they inspire me every day,” she said. “They are changing the world, and that is just amazing.”
Her younger battle buddy, Pvt. Kaylee Reese, said Hawley’s background adds a perspective to training that differs from those her own age. “It’s really rewarding; she has a good ear so you can talk to her,” said Reese. “She really brings a responsible, clear-headed mindset to problems.”
While A Company and Hawley still have some time before graduation, she has her eyes set firmly on her goal and is ready to forge ahead.
“I knew what I was signing up for,” said Hawley. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I still did it, and I’m glad that I’m here every day.”