UK Air Force ROTC Welcomes New Aerospace Studies Department Chair

By Madison Dyment

Coming into a new state, a new school and a new position may seem a daunting task for many, but Lt. Colonel Katie Buss of the U.S. Air Force is far from the average person.

Riding off a fulfilling career in the U.S. Air Force, Buss has recently found her new perch at UK’s ROTC program, where she is the DET 290 Commander and Aerospace Studies Department Chair under the College of Arts and Sciences. This DET is comprised of approximately 120 cadets, with an additional five staff.

Despite numerous relocations and traveling to between 60-70 countries, this is Buss’ first experience living in Kentucky. She is presently settling into Lexington with her husband, who is also a pilot, and three children, Griffin, Gracelyn, and coincidentally, Lexington.

“I actually am very intrigued by Kentucky; it has the horses, the bourbon, and the basketball of course, and it just seems like a really fun place,” said Buss. “We’d heard great things about the school and we love Lexington so far, especially for the chance to try something new and experience a new culture. I really like doing that.”

Luckily, new experiences were always in surplus for Buss thanks to her military past. Growing up in Salem, Ore., she did not come from a military family, but found herself drawn to the idea of being a pilot in grade school. After researching options in high school, the military provided her the best venue to explore her passion.

“I found myself in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., which was a four year program. While I was there, I ran track and studied operations research with a math minor, so I’m clearly a huge nerd,” said Buss, laughing. “After, I got picked to be one of the student athletes that stay for a year and coach, so I coached track and taught P.E. classes.”

Pilot training in Vance, Okla., at the Vance Air Force Base was next on Buss’ list. After a year of intensive training, she was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to tackle her next milestone: flying C-17 cargo planes.

The C-17’s are not just ordinary planes.

“These were big cargo planes; 585,000 lb aircraft that can do unlimited air refueling, land on dirt strip runways. I was selected into the Special Operations program for C-17’s, so we got to do a lot of fun things there, including a lot of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Buss. “I think I have over 500 combat hours in both campaigns.”

If flying these gargantuan vessels wasn’t challenging enough, Buss also faced the challenges that come with minority status. In a room full of men, she typically stood in solidarity as the only woman in the room.

“Whenever we would be gathered for briefings, I’d always be addressed by ‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ since it was always a bunch of men,” said Buss. “So I would just think to myself, ‘And lady!’ This was before the army allowed ladies into combat, so I was usually the only woman in this room of basically thousands of men.”

Even with the deterrent staring her in the face daily, Buss never let it dissuade her from her passion.

“I always just looked at myself as simply a pilot, not a female pilot. I just did what everyone else was doing the best I could.”

Buss’ C-17 experiences flew her to Anchorage, Ala., until she finally landed in Monterey, Calif., where she secured a master’s in national security science to complement her first master’s in aeronautical science from Charleston. This additional accolade lended her the chance to spend a year at the Pentagon, working as an International Affairs Strategist. Always chasing new horizons, Buss then went through training and worked for the U.S. Embassy out of Bogota, Colombia, for three years.

Along the way, one of Buss’ true passions, the development of youth, was realized. This core desire led her to her position at UK.

“I really like working with youth and making a positive difference in their lives. I came here for the opportunity to work with the cadets and make them the best officers we possibly can for the United States Air Force,” said Buss.

Her dedication for the military youth bleeds through in every goal she carries to her position. Besides continuing to develop the cadets she already holds such admiration for, Buss intends to leave her personal mark on UK’s ROTC program. By continually bridging the relationship between the university and ROTC, serving the school and Lexington community, supporting veterans, and increasing cadet involvement on campus, she plans to solidify her legacy at UK.

“In a climate of professionalism and self-respect, I would like to build on the cadets’ abilities to lead during ambiguous situations and prepare them for the many ill-defined challenges they will meet while defending our nation and protecting our freedom as an Air Force officer,” said Buss. “I just want to keep growing the program, focusing on the cadets, and doing everything I can to graduate the best officers possible, because they just might save our lives one day.”



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