News: Recruit sets example for females at National Guard program
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- When Pfc. Kirsty S. Penn of Jacksonville, Fla., arrived at the National Guard GED Plus program, she was intent on doing her best but never thought she would set a benchmark for other females who would attend the program.
On graduation day, 52 of her classmates and fellow recruits selected her to be the class peer leader, marking the first female recruit to hold that honor since the program began in 2006.
Penn attended Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla., from 2006 to 2009. She was home schooled during her senior year and received a high school diploma. But when she went to enlist in the military, her senior year credits were not accepted due to the home school’s accreditation not being recognized by the military.
Her recruiter, Sgt. Daniel K. Lovingood, told her about the National Guard GED Plus program that would enable her to satisfy the academic requirements and help prepare her for initial entry training. Penn arrived at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark. and stepped up on day one to serve as the class platoon guide.
“Being platoon guide was stressful, but it had its fun parts too,” said Penn. “I got to learn a lot about my fellow recruits and experience real responsibility for them.”
At Robert E. Lee H.S., she was a lieutenant junior grade cadet in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps unit and gave credit to her cadre for helping her find the confidence to lead and take charge. According to Navy Lt. Dean Williams, senior naval science instructor, Penn was an active and positive member of the unit.
“She is truly a leader not a follower,” said Williams. “She was our color guard commander and she held the position of our unit administration officer. Cadet Penn always wore the uniform with pride...she set the standard for others to emulate! Her military bearing was impeccable and she was always willing to help with training of the underclassmen in the program.”
Even though some of her classmates at GED Plus had completed basic training, Penn was sought for advice and leadership. Her NJROTC leadership experience along with drill and ceremony training gave Penn a competitive edge.
While she is looking forward to her job in the Florida Army National Guard providing signal and communications support, her heart is set on law enforcement.
“I want to eventually be a military police officer with the Guard. My civilian dream is to get hired with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and graduate from the police academy. I love animals and wanted to be a veterinarian. I think now, I want to combine my passions and serve as a police officer in a K-9 unit. I used to drive by where the officers were training the police dogs and would think, ‘I’m going to do that someday.’ That would be cool.”
Penn’s grandfather, Donald Burgeron, served as a police officer with the New York Police Department from the mid-1950’s to mid-70’s. She said he was her inspiration for wanting to enter law enforcement.
“He’s been a father figure and has always been there for me,” said Penn. “He’s a strong individual and I want to be like him in many ways, except that he talks like a New York Police Officer,” Penn said laughing.
Over the last 20 years of her life, Penn said she has built up a tremendous amount of respect for single mothers from the sacrifices made by her own mom.
“My mom is my hero and I really look up to her,” Penn said. “She had to work so she wasn’t always there to go to my soccer games and school events, but she cared. If I had a friend fight, boy fight, she was there for me lending a shoulder for me to cry on. I could tell her anything and sometimes she would cry along with me.”
She reported for nine weeks of Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and will continue her training for an additional 19 weeks at Fort Gordon, Ga., to learn her military occupational skill as a signal support systems specialist (25U) with her unit in the Florida Army National Guard.
She is the daughter of Aggie M. Penn of Jacksonville, Fla., and Craig W. Penn of Daleville, Ala.