"My recruiter said that I would be loading 100-pound rounds into a cannon."
When Cailleen Walters decided to join the Kansas Army National Guard, she didn't realize she would be making history immediately. A junior at Halstead High School, the 17-year-old is the first female in Kansas to enlist for military occupational speciality 13B, cannon crewmember, a role that was opened to women in 2015.
"They'd had artillery 13th Delta open to women, which is the computerization, locking in where the cannon's going to shoot, but they'd never had a 13th Bravo for a woman to load the rounds in the cannon," Walters noted. "My recruiter said that I would be loading 100-pound rounds into a cannon."
Scoring well on her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests, Walters could have chosen an occupation doing work from behind a desk.
"I was looking at logistics or something with paperwork (but) I'm an athlete and so I don't like to sit down," Walters said. "I told them I wanted artillery and they were like, 'are you sure?'"
She was cautioned that she would most likely be the only female in her unit.
"I grew up with brothers," Walters said. "I grew up with primarily males around me my entire life, so it's just been something I'm used to. I've gotten used to doing what guys do, instead of doing what girls do."
Walters comes from a family that has been active in military service — her father is a former Marine.
"Basically, all the boys in our family have always been military of some sort," Walters noted. "They've been very successful throughout it... If the opportunity came to defend our country, I would. I'd want to be a part of it."
Looking forward to college and planning for a career as a dental hygenist, Walters knew she could benefit from the financial assistance that being in the National Guard would offer.
"I started looking at the National Guard a couple of months ago because I always knew I wanted to be in the military, I just didn't know what I wanted to do," Walters said. "I've always been kind of like competitive in everything, so this is perfect that I'm the first one."
Walters has committed to spend eight years in the National Guard. She will go to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, after finishing her finals in May. After that, she will begin artillery training.
"Hopefully, there's going to be a lot more opportunities for me to move up in rank," Walters said.
The 100-pound rounds will not prove much of a challenge for Walters, who started lifting weights in sixth grade.
"I remember always, like, being stronger than all the guys and all the girls at a very young age," Walters said with a smile. "I didn't even work at it very hard."
Though she runs cross country and track, it is in powerlifting that Walters excels.
"If you would have asked me my freshman year if I ever would have done it, I would have told you no," Walters said. "I didn't want to be like those bodybuilders and have arms bigger than my head."
On her first day of high school, coach Jason Grider saw Walters lifting weights and told her she was going out for powerlifting.
"My first year, I went to state and placed fifth overall, third in squat," Walters said. "I fell in love with it after that."
As a freshman, Walters took third place individually in squat at the state powerlifting meet, lifting 235 pounds and helping the girl's team take third place. In her sophomore year, Walters was the state champion in bench, lifting 145 pounds. She was the state runner-up in squat, lifting 270 pounds and her third place in hang cleans, lifting 155 pounds, made her individually and the team collectively the overall state runners-up.
Walters set several school records for powerlifting at Halstead High School, including benching 155 pounds and squatting 260 pounds in her weight class last year.
"During the week, I'm usually in the weight room twice a day," Walters noted. "On breaks, I'll lift every single day."
That strength and determination are what Walters is counting on to make her career with the Kansas Army National Guard a successful one.
"I am excited and I'm nervous at the same time, because I don't want to let down my unit," Walters said. "I want to be able perform well and keep up with the level that they're at and even beat them."