Military People

From candy striper to command sergeant major

(Featured image: At left, Command Sgt. Maj. Kalani Kalili during the recent Best Combat Medic competition at Fort Eisenhower. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)

A summer of volunteer work inspired a career.

“I started as a candy striper at Eisenhower because my mom made me do things over the summer,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kalani Kalili, Eisenhower Army Medical Center’s command sergeant major.

The daughter of a Signal soldier, Kalili was attending Hephzibah High School at the time. She spent that summer working in the podiatry department, where she said she learned a lot from the doctors and technicians.

Click on advertisement for more information.

“I got to see a lot of the rehab side,” she said.

They took the time to interact with her and share some of their knowledge. They also ignited a spark for her future career.

Her parents didn’t have the money for her to attend college after she graduated in 1995, so it was up to her to take control of furthering her education and finding a career path. Necessity combined with a negative interaction with a guy she dated pushed her toward the Army.

 “I was dating a young man who didn’t want anything to do with me because I didn’t have anything going for my life,” she said.

That led Kalili into an Army recruiter’s office.

Command Sgt. Maj. Kalani Kalili Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

“They said ‘you’re like a godsend,’” she said. “My scores were good, and they said, ‘you could have any job you want.’” I always wanted medical, so I signed up to be a combat medic.”

In her career, Kalili has earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree. She saved her GI bill and passed it on to her children. She’s seen numerous assignments including serving as the first female garrison command sergeant major of U.S. Army Garrison, Okinawa.

This is the second time she’s served at Eisenhower. She was previously the noncommissioned officer in charge at the ob/gyn clinic.

Kalili said the reasons she stayed in the military weren’t the reasons she joined. Being part of something that’s bigger than she is fueled her passion for the military.

“I learned this is part of a bigger thing. Being in the Army and traveling to different areas, I appreciate what the Army stands for. There are some nations where women and men are not equal,” she said. “Part of knowing this country I serve — at the end of the day, it may not be perfect, but we sure are better than lots.”

Click on advertisement for more information.

A third generation soldier whose son is making it four generations, Kalili said a turning point in her career came the first time she was deployed in a combat situation. She had been to Bosnia in a peacekeeping mission, but she also went to Iraq and Afghanistan.

She was part of the 3rd  Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at the time.

She had called her mom to give her the news, and her mother asked how she felt about it.

 “I said ‘I think I’m ok because this division is very well known and has a long legacy and history behind it, and I feel like I am protected by all.’ And that was the defining moment,” she said. “These divisions since 1775 have been protecting our nation. That’s when I learned I love the Army and its people. I love its veterans. I love what it stands for. It still tastes like chocolate cake, so I still continue to serve.”

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News, a member of the Georgia Press Association. And you don’t have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!