Senior Spotlight: Puzzling Out F-16s and Music

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Katrina Kahlhamer

Photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Bacalzo, 169th Public Affairs. Used with permission.

As a high school student, Katrina Kahlhamer toured Italy with her youth orchestra. Now a senior keyboard performance student and a member of the University Symphony Orchestra, she is considering returning to the land of pasta and opera.

“I always hoped I’d go there for my master’s degree, or at least to live there for a couple years and just be able to see everything just because I’m such a music history (fan) and history in general,” Kahlhamer said of her early dreams.

However, she would not be returning as a music student. Instead, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Katrina Kahlhamer would be deployed as an avionics integrated systems technician.

A Perfect Fit

Though Kahlhamer’s father has been in the U.S. Army most of her life, she had no plans to join. “He’s the one who got me into it. I never wanted to join as a kid,” she said. Kahlhamer remembers not wanting to join because “I (didn’t) want to wear camouflage.” However, her dad bought a pink camouflage shirt, which she wore. “My mom would always joke about that,” Kahlhamer said. “The only way Katrina is going to join the military is if they changed to pink camouflage.”

When Kahlhamer joined the Air Force National Guard after high school, she said it was initially “as a way to pay for school.” Because she didn’t have an inclination for a specific career path within the Air Force, Kahlhamer was lured by bonus offers that matched her strengths.

“You take a test when you join — the ASVAB — and I scored really well in electronics, which was surprising even to me. … They let you tour some of the different jobs, and (avionics) stuck out to me,” she said.

As an avionics specialist, Kahlhamer works on F-16 Falcons at McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Hopkins, South Carolina, troubleshooting electrical problems. “I never saw myself doing that, but I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said. “I really like taking stuff apart and fixing it. Because so much of the stuff just comes in, and it’s just in this big box, and it’s a metal box, and you’re just like, ‘What? What is this?’ But then when you break it down, you look at the schematics, and you look at all these things, or you read the technical order … and then you start taking it apart and just figuring out what’s wrong, it’s pretty cool.”

Similarities Between Avionics and Music

Kahlhamer says breaking the large whole into small parts was similar to how she approaches practicing a new piece of music. “You start with this huge piece, and you’re like, ‘I don’t know where to begin.’ You start breaking it down, and it’s like, ‘OK, I can fix this little spot, and fix this little spot,’ and start putting it back together. And it’s pretty cool how it all works,” she said.

Another parallel she saw was in the patience in learning how to focus. Both fixing electrical problems on an airplane and fixing technical problems in a musical performance “comes down to patience, too, just learning how to focus on that one particular thing,” Kahlhamer said.

See Also: Grammy Award-winning Conductor’s Advice to Music Students

Choices, Choices

If Kahlhamer chooses a deployment to Italy, it wouldn’t be her first. She recently returned to the U.S. from four months in Qatar. “I wasn’t in necessarily a super dangerous spot,” she said. “I was just doing my regular job that I do here. … It was definitely hot, especially by the time we were leaving.”

Kahlhamer is considering her options after graduation. Qatar — as well as Italy and Sweden — is on Kahlhamer’s list of possible deployment locations if she chooses to renew her contract. She is also considering graduate studies in piano performance with the goal of teaching at the college level. “That’s what I’m interested in. I’m a very big fan of music history, music theory. I’m kind of nerdy about all that stuff,” she said.

Though Kahlhamer’s future is open-ended, her gratitude is clear: “I’m very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had.”

BJU offers an Air Force ROTC program. Learn more on the ROTC webpage.