Kathleen Utley Kornahrens

In 1980, Kathleen became one of the first women to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy. 

Kathleen as a "Doolie" or Freshman at the USAFA

She was a Captain in the US Air Force and worked as a Computer Systems Development Officer. Kathleen inspires us not only because she is part of a group of women who shattered a glass ceiling in our military but because of the way she and her fellow female cadets embody how lasting change comes from strong communities of women who work together toward a common goal. She and her fellow female classmates recently gathered for their 41st reunion; that gathering and Kathleen's stories remind us that when women stick together magic happens. Our combined strength, spirit, and motivation cannot be broken.

Q&A with Kathleen Kornahrens

ELIA FULMEN: What is one of your fondest memories from your time as a cadet?

KATHLEEN KORNAHRENS: The times when the difficulty of the requirements, whether they were academic, physical, military and emotional, forged bonds between us as cadets. We laughed and cried together and built a camaraderie that we still enjoy today--41 years later.

EF: What advice do you have for other women who are on their way to shattering a glass ceiling?

KK: Focus on the path to the ceiling, not on the ceiling. Truly care and be passionate about great work. Support others along the way so that the first becomes not just the first but the first of many women to do or to be.

Kathleen on her graduation day in 1980

EF: What was one of the hardest things about your time as a cadet? 

KK: It was difficult to be one of so few women and having many eyes judging all women by the actions of any one of us. I wanted to be exemplary but could only be human. It was impossible to get everything done or to get it all done well, so I attempted to do my best and be a part of the group that succeeded. By that combined success we proved women belonged at the service academies.

EF: What's the kindest thing another woman has done for you?

KK: So many of my female classmates were slightly older and/or more aware of the momentousness of our situation. Their encouragement to keep lifting my boots for another mile of running or their offer to carry my rifle when my arms no longer could were pivotal to my standing with all my classmates, male and female, at graduation.

Kathleen with her Academy roommate, Gail Benjamin Colvin, when they made Captain

EF: In your opinion, what is a key issue that must be tackled in order for our country to be more gender-equitable? 

KK: Access to real educational opportunities that then translate into real leadership opportunities. Disparities still exist in the military, in the workforce, in the boardroom, and without focused effort we will not see change.

Kathleen with her husband, Fred Kornahrens, a 1980 USAFA graduate who flew for the Air Force, and their son, John Utley Kornahrens, a USAFA ‘16 graduate now flying C-130s in Germany. John's wife, Lauren Christian, is an Air Force pilot, too.

EF: What's something everyone should know or appreciate about the US military? 

KK: Less than one percent of the US population voluntarily serve and protect as members of the military.

EF: What's the best way for someone to support Veterans?

KK: Ask a veteran about their service, write to a veteran you know and thank them for their service, or visit a VA hospital.