West Point's first mother-daughter grads reflect on service
What can women do in the Army? If you ask Meg Kulungowski, the better question is what can't they do?
Despite a few restrictions on combat-specific positions, woman can do just about anything in the Army, Kulungowski says. "The roles women play in today's Army are very broad and open with plenty of opportunities for success."
Class of 1981 West Point graduate Meg Kulungowski was a member of one of the first classes of graduating women from the academy. She and her daughter share the distinction of being the first mother-daughter team of West Point graduates.
Kulungowski and her husband, fellow alumni and former Black Hawk pilot, retired Col. Mark Kulungowski, are also the first set of alumni parents with a graduating West Point daughter. Mark is now a consultant with Innovative Federal Strategies, a small lobbying firm in D.C.
Kulungowski graduated from Wakefield High School in Arlington in 1977, one year after West Point opened its doors to women for the first time. Intrigued by the opportunity to gain a distinct education and five years of work experience, she applied.
"I liked my job and I was successful," said Kulungowski. Coincidentally, she also became an intelligence officer like her father, retired Col. Owen Knox. Intending initially to remain only for the required length of service, she remained in uniform for 11 years until she left in 1992 under the Voluntary Separation Incentive program. She achieved the rank of major.
While serving her country, Kulungowski recognizes the great strides women have made in the Army.
"I think Lt. Gen. (P) Dunwoody is a classic case. The Army is an organization that allows women a great opportunity to compete amongst their peers regardless of gender," said Kulungowski.
"Mark and I never pressured our daughter Megan to join the service," Kulungowski said. However, seeing the great opportunities the Army offered, their daughter, 1st Lt. Megan Kelvington also sought the "West Point Experience" after attending the Academy's Summer Leaders Seminar.
"Megan was drawn to the Army's sense of community and connectedness. Wherever you go, there is always someone there you know," said Kulungowski.
Kelvington graduated 25 years to the day of her mother on May 27, 2006. Like her father, she also became a pilot.
"Everything I have wanted to do has been open to me. I wanted to be a Black Hawk pilot. I went to flight school and then was afforded the opportunity to get a fixed-wing transition," she said.
Kelvington's mother was a great source of motivation. "One of my mom's biggest pieces of advice was 'never let anyone tell you can't -- keep believing in yourself,'" she said.
Kelvington is currently stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. At the end of the month, she will move to take a position as an aviator with a military intelligence battalion at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga. "In a sense, she became a combination of both of her parents," said her mother.
"I realize how tough it must have been and how much of a drive she must have had to accomplish her goals because it was not yet accepted at academy or by the general population," said Kelvington.
Now a Department of the Army civilian, Kulungowski is currently the director of Congressional Affairs at the Joint Improvised Explosive Defeat Organization in Crystal City. The joint organization reports to the deputy secretary of Defense and is led by Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz. Kulungowski serves as principal liaison between JIEDDO and Congress in order to engender support for continued funding of the agency's mission to defeat IEDs as a weapon of strategic influence.
The Kulungowski's youngest daughter, Mallory is a junior in high school. It is still uncertain whether she will follow in the footsteps of her sister and parents, but one thing is for certain, the Kulungowski family embodies the true strength of today's Army - diversity, patriotism, strength, and leadership. For the Kulungowskis the Army is a family business with many opportunities.
Article by Jessica Obermeyer
Photo 1 Caption: Former Maj. Meg Kulungowski and daughter Megan, (seen here at age 4 and now a first lieutenant) are the first mother-daughter graduates from West Point. Lt. Megan Kelvington graduated 25 years to the day of her mother, May 27, 2006. Kelvington said that her mother was a great source of motivation and always pushed her to “never let anyone tell you that you can’t.”
Photo 2 Caption: 1st Lt. Megan Kelvington graduated from West Point 25 years to the day of her mother and fellow alumni Meg Kulungowski on May 27, 2006. Kelvington is the first academy graduate who is the daughter of West Point alumni parents. Kelvington, who said she always knew she wanted join the Army, is an aviator on her way to a Military Intelligence Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.