On top of numerous military decorations, Notre Dame graduate Kimberlee Joos was a recipient of the Alumni Merit Award during homecoming weekend at Southeast Missouri State University.
Joos graduated from Notre Dame in 1987, and from Southeast in 1991 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology. While in college, she was involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC), which allowed her to enter into the U.S. Air Force in 1992.
Although Joos began her service in the Air Force as a Second Lieutenant, she rose through the ranks over a 23-year career, serving in more complex missions as she earned more responsibility. In 2013, Joos was appointed as the 17th Training Wing Commander, a position in which she ran a nearly 6,000-person Air Force base in San Angelo, TX for two years. She retired in 2015 as Colonel.
She’s been stationed in many locations across the globe, including Japan, Germany, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.
Why She Served
Joos joined the Air Force largely for financial reasons. In addition to her governor’s scholarship from SEMO, she discovered the possibility of receiving another scholarship through ROTC to further aid her in paying for college. She specifically chose the Air Force for sentimental reasons: to follow her father, Jimmy’s, footsteps. An interest in travel wasn’t out of mind, either.
“I think a lot differently now than I thought as a 20-year old. When I was in my twenties, I was looking for a way to see the world and to help pay for college,” said Joos.
But why she decided to enter is much different from why she decided to stay.
“I love the United States of America. I’m really passionate about the country and our democracy and how we do things, especially as a military,” said Joos. “We ended up being a powerful ambassador to this way of life and our form of government, and I think all of that is pretty awesome.”
What kept Joos motivated day-to-day were the people she worked with as she traveled up in rank.
“I then had people who worked for me, and I felt like I was a better person working for them,” said Joos.
Briefing the Secretary of Defense
One significant event during Joos’ career included briefing the Secretary of Defense, William J. Perry, in 1995 after a U.S. F-16 pilot was shot down during the Bosnian War.
“I got to basically tell him what happened, based on all of our ways of collecting information. At the time, I was 26 years old, and here I am, a couple of years out of SEMO, and I’m standing in front of the Secretary of Defense,” said Joos. “That was a situation I never thought I would be in, especially that quickly.”
On Her Retirement
“You hope that everywhere you’re at in your life, you’re serving in the capacity that God wants you to be serving in,” said Joos.
This idea was heavily considered when she approached the end of her military career.
“So, as I got up in rank and in responsibility, it was amazing,” said Joos. “But I got to a point where, even though I loved what I was doing, I just felt pulled to do something else.”
This is where she made her decision to retire. She now spends time with family in Texas, and volunteers at various organizations, including the Texas Veterans Commission and St. Lawrence Church in Denton, Texas.
Although, this isn’t the extent of how Joos offers her talents. After a 5-month certification process, she recently earned the title of Master Gardener in the state of Texas.
“I grew up on three acres outside of Kelso, Missouri, and my mom, Leona, was the most amazing gardener. We had a huge vegetable garden every year,” said Joos. “She taught me so much about gardening, and I inherited her passion for growing things.”
Joos serves as secretary for the Denton County Master Gardeners Association, an organization that provides education on sustainable horticultural practices.
How Notre Dame Readied Joos For Her Future
Joos credits much of her solid foundation in academics and character to Notre Dame, which continues to reinforce these virtues.
“As you get out into the world and you’re not surrounded by people who can give you advice on how to handle really complex situations, you’re kind of on your own, based on the foundation you were given,” said Joos. “As things got more and more complex as I went up in rank, I really found that the way I’d been prepared was a huge benefit that I think went to a lot of my success.”
She said Notre Dame also prepared her to be a good leader, a quality she thinks is within everyone. Joos defines good leadership by two qualities:
“I know one of the very first things that a leader has to do at all times is to do the right thing, even when no one’s looking,” said Joos. “And, leaders don’t always worry about finishing first- they should instead worry about making sure everybody finishes.”
Serving Her Country Through The Catholic Faith
During her time in the military, Joos said although she couldn’t talk much on her religion, she always tried to be an example of Christ to everyone she met.
“In the military, because of our nation’s freedom of religion, not everybody I worked with was Catholic, or even Christian. So I couldn’t necessarily outwardly talk about my Catholic faith,” said Joos. “But what I could do was demonstrate it in my actions.”
So, Joos tried to be that example of Christ to everyone, through all she did.
“I hope that people who would watch me would see me and go, ‘Wow, she’s setting a great example. What drives her? What’s her source of joy? What’s her source of morality?’” said Joos. “And, of course, that force was Christ.”
According to the Texas Veterans Commission, Joos’ military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal with 1 Service Star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Korean Defense Service Medal.