At an airfield in Thailand, the locals were surprised. They just watched as the lead mechanic gathered up the team to quickly replace the failing tire on the plane’s landing gear. They marveled not at the task but at the managing Sailor.

“The locals were amazed that a female was in charge,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Kate Hoover with a big smile. “They couldn’t believe it. That was neat to see.”

Hoover just tucked away the memory and moved on the next experience, which in her case was riding elephants the next day. Then it was photographing tigers and finally capping it off with getting her nails done on a beach.

It was all a far cry from Ashburn, Va., where she was raised. She left her hometown for the unknown of the U.S. Navy, and now nearly 11 years later, she has seen the world. Each experience in different lands has shaped her and reminded her of how much she wants to give others the same opportunity. It is why she can now be found in the second desk from the window at Navy Recruiting Station Huntsville, Ala.

“I always wanted to be a recruiter,” she said.

As soon as she was eligible, she applied for the special duty.

Another factor that motivated her career choice was the experience she had with her recruiter. After reading her start guide, she asked her recruiter if she needed to bring a bathing suit to boot camp like the one in the book. His answer: “I don’t know.” So she erred on the side of caution and found the exact suit, ordered it online and then arrived at boot camp.

“They put it in a box and shipped it all home,” she said laughing.

First impressions are important to Hoover and she didn’t want to see another female Sailor have a bad opinion of the Navy for something that could be avoided.

“I want my Sailors to go to boot camp prepared and be able to come to back to me later. I want to be more than a recruiter to them. I want to be a mentor. I get letters from boot camp, and I get letters after they leave. That is what I love about being a recruiter. It’s been hard but it is rewarding,” she said.

As the only female in the station, she happily answers questions from any prospective women who want to know more about the Navy. But there is one question that she has trouble answering: What is it like on a Navy ship?

Her squadron flew the P-3 Orion and later P-8 Poseidon, both of which are far too large for a ship. So while she worked out of El Salvador, Italy, Malta, France, Portugal, Japan, Peru, the Philippines, and of course, Thailand, she never saw the ocean from the side of ship.

“I did take a tour of a ship once,” she said with a smile. “I tell people that we fly overseas on a plane, that I stay in hotels and I get extra money to live there.”

She leaves the explanation of haze gray and underway to the rest of her fellow recruiters. And they turn to her for every question about naval aviation.

“In my station they didn’t know about aviation. So anytime it comes up, I can use my experience. It’s been good and I think it’s paid off,” she said.

Just a few feet from her desk, pictures of Future Sailors are affixed to a corkboard. At the very top in the highest filled position is a woman who will soon become an Aviation Structural Mechanic, just like her.

“It made me excited to be able to talk to another female joining the same rate,” she said. “I am always real with them. I tell them that it’s not always going to be easy. But being the female and at the same time doing the unexpected is a good thing. Sometimes it’s nice to stick out.”

When Hoover was in Japan, she found another way to do the unexpected—this time by getting into the water. It was 4:45 a.m. and the sun hadn’t appeared. The temperature was frigid and she wondered aloud why she had volunteered. After a quick exercise routine, the leader of the group told everyone to get in. It was a boat, powered by people and their paddles. She was confused but willing. Over the next few tryouts, she advanced all the way to the final cut and made the dragon boat team, which consisted of 30 female paddlers.

“When it came race day, ten people from my squadron showed up to support me. Our race came up and we won overall. All the guys in my shop picked me up on their shoulders to celebrate,” she said.

She is quick to show photos of her victory and tell stories about the time she was in a boat, even if it wasn’t a commissioned Navy vessel.

However, her passion remains aircrafts, as one can tell by the scale models of the P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon sitting on her desk. She had them personalized in the Philippines. Yet she is still a little surprised by the fact that she works in naval aviation.

“If I was sitting in the applicant’s seat and they gave me the option of being an air framer back then, I would have never taken it. I was not mechanically inclined coming into the Navy. But I’m so glad the way things panned out that way,” she said. “I’ve learned everything I needed to inside the military.”

When she was in boot camp, she was asked to switch from undesignated seaman to undesignated airman. She agreed and that decision changed the course of a career.

“After that I was assigned to a helicopter squadron. It panned out perfectly; I was able to figure out what job I wanted to do. I’m so glad I chose it,” she said.

That experience has shaped how she explains every rate to prospective Sailors. She tells them that a job is more than a paragraph description on a website.

“You can’t always go off of what you’re reading about a job, because no matter what, it’s never the picture that you had when you joined,” she said. “My experience being an air framer is different than the next person. I tell people not to get stuck on the job. It’s more than a job. It’s the experience. It’s everything it gives you. Even if you get a job around home which pays more, you will never get the experience that you get with the U.S. Navy.”

NRS Huntsville is part of Navy Recruiting District Nashville, which is responsible for recruiting efforts throughout more than 100,000 square miles of the states of Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Virginia.

For more information on NRD Nashville, visit us at http://www.cnrc.navy.mil/nashville/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NRD.Nashville

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Updated March 1, 2017 (kbh)