The license plate on the truck reads "FOLKRKR"—a seemingly stark contrast to its driver, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kate Anderson, clad in smartly pressed digital camouflage and a matching hat concealing her long, golden hair. After guards search our vehicle, we adjourn to a conference room table in the hangar at the Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base for a chat before she hops in her Lakota LUH-72A and flies away.
What are the objectives of your two flights today?
We're strictly a civil support aircraft. It's non-deployable and has no weapons, but we still go do low-level terrain flight and go up in the mountains and do pinnacle landings, like we'd do to rescue a lost hiker.
Was your first impulse to serve your country or to fly?
Flight, definitely. My dad had a dual-prop ultralight throughout my childhood and he'd take me up flying. When I was 7, he took me to the Black Rock Desert, where some NASA guys were shooting off rockets. One of them sent me pictures of what the satellites sent back. I still have them. So until I was 14, I didn't wanna just be a pilot, I wanted to be an astronaut.
Then you joined the Army ...
Yeah, but you can't go 'street-to-seat.' They wanted to make me a [refueler]. Instead, I became a Tropo-scatter communication system operator and maintainer. Very tactical, very cool for a first appointment. I was 18 when I went overseas to do that. Then I was a drill sergeant for about three years before I picked up a combat journalism slot out of Ft. Custer, Mich. I was accepted to flight school right after college, and my first appointment was Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. I've been in the Army now for 15 years and I've been an officer for five.
Tell me about being LGBTQ in the military.
Maybe I'm the anomaly, but I've never had trouble. I gave my fellow females respect and space. I was chivalrous; I always got up extra early to shower alone. When people found out, it wasn't a big deal because I've always been a good drill sergeant and a proficient pilot. When I came out to my commander, he supported me but warned me about good ol' boys. I told him, 'That's fine. I just want you to know because the holiday party is coming up and I'm bringing my beautiful girlfriend.'
What about being a folk musician in the military during these divided times?
I'm so torn. Talia Keys—a good friend of mine—posted a video of one of my favorite female musicians burning the flag. I respect Talia, and freedom of speech, so much. But my solider side just wept. I remember being 18, terrified and away from home, but the flag on my shoulder helped me feel connected to the whole country that I was fighting for. It is such a symbol of hope, but it's also one of the top symbols used in propaganda. So it is a tough time to be a woman, LGBT, soldier, folk-rocker. In true folk, you reflect [the times]; it feels like we're on the edge. It's like when I get to go up and fly. There's something unearthly, fantastic, surreal and tranquil about being in a bubble of air 2,000 feet above the ground, and you know you've got 12,000 shaft horsepower to stop you from falling, but there's still that natural butterfly in your stomach.