During Women of Aviation Week, we feature Kathryn Christmas, a former CAP cadet who’s regimental commander at The Citadel and preparing for her career as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
In May, Cadet Col. Kathryn Christmas will address The Citadel’s Class of 2022 for the final time as its regimental commander — the second female commander in the school’s 179‐year history.
She will have earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and will commission in the U.S. Air Force with a pilot slot reserved. Christmas credits Civil Air Patrol as instrumental in helping her achieve her goals.
“Ever since I was in elementary school, I knew that I wanted to serve my country,” the former South Carolina Wing member said. “In what capacity, I did not know at the time, but after years of mentorship and hard work, I achieved my goal.”
Christmas joined CAP at 15 while attending Bob Jones Academy in Greenville. She did so “to broaden my horizons and prepare me for the Air Force Academy. CAP helped me obtain a four‐year Air Force scholarship to The Citadel.”
As a member of the Greenville squadron, Christmas achieved the grade of cadet first lieutenant. She learned about public speaking and communicating clearly — key in helping prepare her for her future responsibilities as regimental commander.
Being a role model has been a humbling experience for her, knowing she influenced younger CAP cadets. “I hope that they can focus on my character as a leader and person, not only my successes,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know my people and learning their experiences because we all succeed in our own way, it just depends on your personal goals.
“My desire is that female cadets strive to be the best that they can be, because we all bring a unique set of talents to the table.”
“I speak in front of 2,300 cadets, retired generals, and senior civilian leaders almost weekly,” she said. “I was first introduced to public speaking during CAP. Jumping from a small bubble at Bob Jones to a bigger one at The Citadel was a culture shock, but [the challenge] was alleviated because of my CAP experience.”
The diversity she encountered among her fellow South Carolina Wing members has also benefited her in college. “I grew up in a small community; Civil Air Patrol allowed me to experience other cultures and people who did not think like me,” she said. Fellow cadets and adult members she encountered in the Greenville squadron, at summer encampment, and while serving on the wing Cadet Advisory Council provided valuable perspective.
Of the four core values of CAP – integrity, volunteer service, excellence, and respect – Christmas said integrity particularly resonates with her because it revolves around the character of the individual. Leaders can have a great physical training score and help the community, but without character founded on integrity, people won’t respect and ultimately the mission will fail.
“Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf has a quote about leadership that has been a part of my leadership philosophy for many years: ‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy,’” Christmas said.
During her time in CAP and at The Citadel, she has learned many leadership lessons. “The one that stands out to me is to hold others accountable regardless of my relationship with them,” she said. “Peer leadership has taught me that consistency is key to respect among them. The right decision may not always be the easiest.”
“My experience in Civil Air Patrol and the opportunities it provided meant almost nothing felt too big to overcome,” Christmas said.
Christmas plans to become an adult member of CAP once she gets settled into her new career in the Air Force: “I want the next generation to get as much out of CAP as I did when I was a cadet.”