Kyleanne Hunter embodies the spirit and global perspective of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
As a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, she was one of the first female attack pilots and later served as the corps’ liaison officer to the U.S. House of Representatives. Today, she’s a Sié Fellow at the Josef Korbel School, where her career experiences shape the work she does in and out of the classroom.
Hunter is a master’s candidate in international security who earned her BA from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. After graduating from Georgetown, she spent more than a decade as an officer in the Marine Corps, serving as an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot on multiple deployments in support of Operation Iraqi and Operation Enduring Freedom. “I was an attack pilot. I was the first woman on the east coast,” she says. “It was a trailblazer-type experience. Definitely an experience being the first in something, which is never easy. It’s something that takes grit and determination.”
Hunter’s experiences prove that she has both grit and determination in spades. “I’m dumb enough not to be afraid of anything,” she jokes. “I had a flight instructor tell me once that I had no apparent fear of death. Whatever mechanism that’s supposed to make me afraid is missing.”
Following her service as a pilot, Hunter began her stint as liaison officer to the House of Representatives and served as the military escort for several international congressional delegations. While escorting members of Congress to Afghanistan, she began to see the positive impact U.S. military action has had on the country. On one trip, she met the first women commissioned in the Afghan army’s air branch.
She describes the roadblocks these women faced: “They wanted to fly. Because of cultural norms in Afghanistan, getting trained was a huge problem. They couldn’t be alone in a helicopter with a man.”
So Hunter worked with members of Congress to arrange for training in the United States. She later learned that two of the women earned their wings in fall 2012.
“When talking to these women, I learned that they were very proud to be Afghan,” she says. “They wanted to serve. It was the same reason why I wanted to serve. They’re proud of their country, and they want to serve their country. They now had the safety and security to feel that pride and to serve.”
Today in Colorado, Hunter continues to work with Afghan women. After moving to the Denver area to attend the Josef Korbel School, she became acquainted with Shannon Galpin, founder of Mountain2Mountain, an organization that aims to empower women and girls domestically and abroad. As a cyclist, she began working with Galpin to help Afghan women form a professional cycling team.
“We worked up funding to get us over there to work with the women,” Hunter says. “It’s a huge step for them to get out and ride on the street. Because of social norms, they can’t have a male coach. So we offer some structure and advice on how to organize a team, how to work together as a team — the basic coaching/teammate mechanics.”
The team now aspires to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. “They’re strong and they want to be competitive,” Hunter says. “They’re very very serious. And again it comes down to their pride in being Afghan.”
As busy as these efforts keep her, Hunter still has time to be a full-time student, a Sié Fellow and a research assistant at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy — roles she takes very seriously.
As a Sié Fellow, she works alongside faculty members who are doing research on some of the most pressing issues of our time, including Associate Professor Erica Chenoweth’s Program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research. Hunter credits these experiences with broadening her knowledge and interests.
“I feel like I’ve actually been able to become an expert at something from having to read and collect data on violent and nonviolent revolutionary movements,” she says.
Her work with Chenoweth sparked an idea she is pursuing for her master’s thesis. “Often you see women very active in revolutionary movements, but that does not always mean they’re involved in the government that’s formed after the revolution. So I’m looking at the causal links — what causes a successful transition from revolutionary women to governance? There’s nothing out there on what the catalysts are that provide the transition from women in revolution to women in governance.”