Female soldier who was attached to Delta Force: “we’re not trying to prove this feminist point”

A former female soldier who embedded with units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force is coming out about the exploits of her fellow female contemporaries in an effort to honor her fallen comrade.

Former Staff Sergeant Kat Kaelin served as a member of a Cultural Support Team, whose role was to search and gather Intel from Afghan women and children during raids, often extracting information from people who would otherwise be uncomfortable talking to men.

Due to another soldier becoming injured, Kaelin was paired with Lieutenant Ashley White on an assignment to Kandahar in 2011.

“I remember when we were getting on the plane and she was really nervous,” Kaelin said. “We were loading all of our stuff. She said, ‘I was looking forward to working with this other gal.’ And I was, ‘It will be fine. We will feel each other out.’ I told her, ‘I got your back.’”

Originally tasked with the 75th Ranger Regiment, the pair were nervous when they had to go on their first raid. Maintaining their bearing, they checked each other’s’ equipment and boarded the helicopters.

Despite being tasked with an all-male unit, Kaelin recalls the consummate professionalism of the Special Operations unit.

“They want you to succeed,” she said. “It was not like a competition. They don’t want you to go out and be a liability and get somebody killed. They are going to train you and teach you everything you need to know. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. These guys are homegrown country boys- chill, super friendly, down to earth.”

A month before White was killed, Kaelin was moved to another sector in Afghanistan. While working with a Delta squadron, she found out about White’s demise.

“I was with a few of the Delta guys watching a movie, it was ‘Without a Paddle,’ something goofy,” she said. “It was on a TV they used as a computer. A notification came up on the corner. Said all lines are black. I said, ‘Check that out.’ I remember being like, ‘Why are the lines black?’ When the lines go black something bad has happened.”

When one of the operators clicked on the message, her heart dropped into her stomach.

“It said Kandahar, 18 wounded in action, three severely wounded in action, three KIA,” Kaelin remembered. “Next to it, the KIA, it said, ‘Ranger, Ranger, CST.’ I knew it was Ashley. One of the Delta guys looked at me and said, ‘I am here if you need something.’ I told him, ‘I got to go,’ and I ran out of the area, and I remember it was raining.”

After confirming the loss, Kaelin broke down, prompting concern from the Delta unit members.

“The commander and sergeant major of the Delta group I was working with took me inside their living quarters,” she said. “They talked to me like I was a human. ‘You are here by yourself, I don’t envy what you are going through right now. I want to let you know this is the stuff that happens. It is okay to be upset about it.’ I am so grateful for that conversation. It helped me process it and it didn’t come out later on.”

Since then, at least two members of the CST have named their children after White, including Kaelin, who utilized White’s middle name when it came to assigning her middle daughter’s moniker.

Kaelin insists that coming out about her time as a CST is simply to honor her friend and is anything but political- particularly in a time where forced integration of women into combat units is causing friction among members of the military.

“We’re not trying to prove this feminist point,” she said. “We know our position on the battlefield and what our job was. Which is really interesting with integrating women into special operations because it’s not about gender. It’s about you’re capability and if you can do the job and do it correctly. That’s how we won over the Rangers.”

Kaelin has since gotten out of the military, residing with her husband and three children near Fort Benning, GA.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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