FORT BENNING, Ga. - “Don’t stop.” This phrase has guided Brig. Gen. Mikey Kloster from her days as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet to becoming one of the first women to command a training division in the Army Reserve.
In keeping with the Army’s celebration of Women’s History Month throughout March, Kloster’s career serves as an inspiration to all who overcome obstacles to achieve their goals – to those who “Don’t stop.”
“There are some odds that you are up against as a woman,” said Kloster, who currently serves as commanding general of the Army Reserve’s 98th Training Division (IET), making her the first female general officer and first female division commander on Fort Benning, Ga. “Not too many women get to make general.”
Kloster’s journey began at the University of Delaware in the early 1980s.
“I was going to college to become a high school history teacher, and late in my sophomore year I had some friends who were in ROTC and they said, ‘Hey, come on down to the open house, check this out,’” said Kloster. “At that point, I had not had any exposure to the military in any way, shape or form.
“It kind of floated my boat when I saw what ROTC did,” she continued. “When I was in high school, I was the class president and I was in student government and all sorts of things like that, and I thought, ‘(ROTC) is a nice little piece of leadership that I have not been doing since I joined college.’”
Kloster joined ROTC in her junior year and was her class’ Distinguished Military Graduate. She was commissioned in June 1984 as a second lieutenant in the Adjutant General Corps, and later that year undertook her first active-duty assignment with the 54th Area Support Group in Rheinberg, Germany, where she served as the Administrative Support Division officer, Army Community Services officer and Headquarters Company commander for the 54th ASG and the MILCOM.
She next served at the Kansas City Military Entrance Processing Station, where she held the positions of adjutant and operations officer, and was a member of the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command Corporate Information Management IDEF team under the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In July 1992, she assumed command of Headquarters Company, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which is the largest company in the U.S. Army.
“I always took the tough jobs; I always sought command,” said Kloster, who is currently holding her sixth command position. “People mentored me and pointed out good things that I should do, and I took the opportunity every chance I got and embraced it.”
Leaving active duty in 1993, Kloster was assigned to the Delaware Army National Guard where she served with the Selective Service. In 1994, she was assigned to the Kansas National Guard where she served as the executive officer, Selective Service, and then as Personnel Services officer, Secretary to the General Staff and headquarters commandant of the 35th Infantry Division.
Kloster was the first female commander of the 35th ID, foreshadowing the many “firsts” she would enjoy as a woman in the military, although she never sought such distinctions.
“I’m never looking and saying, ‘You can be the first so-and-so,’ or, ‘I want to be the first so-and-so,’” Kloster explained. “I’m a soldier – I do my job, and part of my job as a leader is to encourage everyone to reach their optimum potential.
“As we’re getting all these ‘firsts’ going, it means we are not worrying about people’s differences and we are not discriminating against people because they may be different,” she continued. “I think it’s a good thing because it takes away those differences.
“In the big picture, I don’t need the label of being the first – I’m just happy to have the opportunity to do what I’m doing,” she added.
In July 2000, Kloster joined the Army Reserve, where she headed several positions in the Office of the Commanding General, 99th Regional Readiness Command. Following promotion to lieutenant colonel, she served as battalion commander of the 444th Personnel Service Battalion and subsequently served in the first rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Kuwait and Iraq.
“I have been involved in many skirmishes, firefights and engagements, and I wear the Combat Action Badge for that reason,” Kloster said. “My take on women in combat arms is: We’ve already been in combat; we’re already doing it.
“My personal opinion is that this is the United States of America, and our country was founded on the premise of freedom and liberty and opportunities for everybody,” she explained. “If you are an American citizen – regardless of your differences, your background, your religion, your ethnicity – the reason people came to America was to have that opportunity, to be more than they were, to achieve more than they could, and we have prided ourselves as a country on that opportunity.
“If a woman physically can handle the job and mentally can handle the job, there’s no reason she should be denied the opportunity to do it,” she continued. “If somebody has the capability, go for it, because that’s what America’s all about.”
While Kloster has had success defending herself on the battlefield, she fought her greatest foe from within.
“About two years ago, I truthfully was ready to retire; I didn’t want to, but I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and went through some very significant treatment – three surgeries, a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation,” she explained.
“If I hit any sort of low point in that process, it was that I kind of knew the military was going to ask me to depart,” Kloster said. “(I thought) they were going to say, ‘You’re a medical mess, you have cancer, you need to retire.’
“That kind of hurt when I started to think about that, because I thought, ‘I’m not done – I’m not done serving,’” she continued. “At the time, I was a brigade commander, and I wanted to finish that.
“I kind of gave up on getting promoted, and I was ready to accept needing to retire, but the one thing that I did was that I didn’t stop,” Kloster said. “I had bad days and I stayed home, but I came to work when I could, and I continued to go to drill weekend and command.
“I am absolutely tickled that the Army looked at me and said, ‘There is one resilient soldier, and she is still relevant and she is still ready, and she can still serve,’” she added.
Kloster has also served as chief personnel officer for several general officer-level commands, to include the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command where she currently serves as the chief of staff in her civilian career and is known as “Dr. Kloster” in recognition of her doctorate in business administration.
“Education, education, education!” she stressed. “To me, you don’t stop learning – life is lifelong learning.
“Every time I acquired a new degree, it opened a door for me, and it shows credibility and it shows that you’re willing to make some sacrifices to learn and grow,” said Kloster, who also holds a bachelor of arts degree in history and a master of science degree in management, as well as being a graduate of the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the United States Army War College.
“I was afforded the chance to do so many things and try so many things and I capitalized on those opportunities,” she added.
Such opportunities do not always present themselves to women in the military, and sometimes women do not seize the opportunities when they are available, according to Kloster.
“So many women sacrifice who they are for a marriage, sacrifice who they are for their children,” she said. “If you feel that it is something you really enjoy doing, whether it’s the military or being a biologist or whatever, don’t stop.
“Your husband may have to do more around the house so that you can go to drill weekend, but when you stop, so many people have trouble starting again,” she continued. “You have something to offer and you have credibility, even though you have another label as a wife and a mother.”
Kloster has held many labels throughout her career – cadet, student, soldier, leader, mentor, warrior, doctor, survivor, commander and general officer. It’s a three-decade-long journey that continues for a woman who has always lived by her own simple mantra: “Don’t stop.”
“I’m just really, really glad that the Army is recognizing that I’m not done, and they’re willing to allow me to continue to serve,” she said.