Volunteer Job Caps Them All

Kathryn’s Work with American Legion Earns Her More Stripes

Commander Kathryn Stillman. Photo: Maggie Hal

In her varied path through life, Kathryn Stillman has worn many hats – metaphorically and for real. First as a nursing aid, then in the Air Force, followed by the US Capitol Police, and currently with the US Senate Sergeant at Arms. For the last year she’s sported yet another cap. Her volunteer job gives her the right to a very impressive piece of head-wear. But she doesn’t wear it. Not for any reason other than she still has to order it. She’s so busy carrying out her duties she’s never got round to it.

Kathryn is an American Legion Commander right here in the heart of our community. She’s the “boss” of Post 8. After a full day in her Dirksen Building office, Kathryn can invariably be found, well into the evening, at the Post, on the corner of 3rd and D Streets, SE.

There’s always something to do – be it working on boosting membership, co-coordinating the next youth event, organizing a fund-raiser for any number of military-linked charities, sorting out the logistics of hosting wounded veterans, recruiting members to supervise the numerous gatherings in the “to rent” event room, or preparing for official occasions, like Memorial and Veterans Day.

“I wish I was independently wealthy,” she says. “Then I could devote all my working time to the Post. There’s just so much, important work, always to be done.”

But happily – and Kathryn emphasizes this – she is surrounded by an enthusiastic, skilled, ready-at-a-moment to pitch in, band of Post members. Since becoming Commander, Kathryn has infused the Post with a heightened “let’s get it done” passion. Asked how she manages to round up enough people to achieve that, she laughs and says, “It’s called pissing and moaning.” And, as Kathryn puts it, for those who get her “over the hump,” she has a special reward. They get a tiny glass camel, which they can exchange for a drink at the Legion bar, or keep – to start a collection like Kathryn has. Though it will take any recipient of a Kathryn-Camel years to come anywhere close to hers. She has hundreds, crafted out of all manner of materials, such as leather, china, wood, even knitted. The collection – which includes paintings and photos - started because, in a former life, she had a husband who smoked. Yes, he smoked Camels. And before he became an ex-husband, Kathryn got a tattoo (talk about being ahead of her time). But not a rose, or a love-knot, for this spirited gal. She had a camel tattooed on her...well, never mind. The only person who knows is semi-retired DC lawyer Jim Fairbairn, with whom Kathryn has joyfully shared a Capitol Hill home for the last 20 years.

Rhode Island-born Kathryn grew up in Oregon. From the time she was a teenager, she had her eye on becoming a police officer. “My big ambition was to be a Seattle police officer,” she recalls. “They had a scheme where you became a cadet, then joined the force at age 21. I was all set to do that, then just as I graduated high school the program was bumped because of budgetary problems.” So, with her dream of joining the police crushed, Kathryn went to work as a nursing aide. A couple of years later she moved to Maryland, to work as a private care nurse. A colleague’s husband was in the Air Force, based at Andrews. “His involvement with the military piqued my interest. I signed-up for the Air Force Reserve.” For the next 24 years, Kathryn served, as a reservist at Andrews. She learnt MASH techniques and ended up on a medical air-vac triage team. She also trained as a firearm’s instructor.

In 1985 she fulfilled her dream of donning a police badge. She  joined the US Capitol Police Force. As she admits, “I was a bit of a late starter. There were few rookies of my age.” But that didn’t get in her way. She retired 24 years later as a lieutenant – with a ton of high-profile memories. As Commander of the Special Events Unit, she met with countless global dignitaries, like Margaret Thatcher, the Dali Lama, numerous heads of states and royalty and, of course, US Presidents. On leaving the force, she joined the Senate Sergeant at Arms office, where she coordinates all access to the Senate.

While Kathryn is not the first female commander of Post 8 (there was one for a short time years ago) she is still a rare breed. Only a handful of the posts around the country are led by a woman. This month Kathryn stands for re-election. She will, understandably, be unopposed!

As Mick Nardelli, Commander of the Sons of the American Legion, so aptly says, “Kathryn has brought a unique and powerful leadership to Post 8. Her passion is contagious. She has raised the profile of our Post and our mission.”

Sentiments echoed by Ariane Sweeney, who heads the women’s Auxiliary. “I’m always amazed that anyone would accept the position of Commander. You are essentially running a small business, without any financial compensation. Though she has a full-time job, Kathryn has been tireless in her efforts to ensure the Post runs smoothly and to bring about improvements.”

A sentiment all Post 8 members raise their caps to.


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