by Jess Clackum
CDR Kelly Hinderer is a decorated Naval Flight Officer with 25 years of service. She is senior navigation and weapons officer, tactical coordinator and mission commander of the aircraft. Hinderer is a veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch with 3,500 flight hours in the P-3 Orion (four-engine turboprop anti-submarine, maritime surveillance aircraft). The Jackson, Michigan native enlisted in the Navy in 1991 and after boot camp in Orlando, attended Fort Benjamin Harrison Defense Information School as studying Navy Journalism. Afterwards, she transferred to Naval Air Station Jacksonville as a Journalist and Public Affairs Officer.
During her tour at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Hinderer wrote a story on the first female flight engineer in a P-3 Orion aircraft. It was during that experience that she realized she wanted to fly. In 1995, after a year of taking college night courses, she was accepted into the Enlisted Commissioning Program and attended the University of Florida's Navy ROTC Unit where she was commissioned in 1997. After completion of her Bachelor's degrees in Journalism and English, she was selected for the Naval Flight Officer Program. She completed flight training and was designated Naval Flight Officer in October 1998.
CDR Hinderer finished the P-3 FRS (Fleet Replacement Squadron) in September 1999 and reported to Patrol Squadron Four at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. She qualified as Blue Card Navigator, Patrol Plane Tactical Coordinator Mission Commander, and Instructor. She completed deployments to Fifth and Seventh Fleet in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where her squadron logged over 9,700 flight hours.
In 2002, Hinderer served a three-year tour as Weapons Tactics Unit Updated Software Fit Team Leader, Fleet Standardization Officer, Fleet Replacement Squadron Instructor and Instructor Navigator at Patrol Squadron Thirty, the US Navy's Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Fleet Replacement Squadron whose mission is to provide P-3 specific training to pilots, naval flight officers and enlisted aircrew prior to reporting to the fleet. This was followed by a tour at the Fleet Support Unit at Whidbey Island where she served as Tactical Officer and Instructor and flew the Fleet's special mission P-3 Orion aircraft.
Between May 2008 and September 2012, CDR Hinderer was assigned as Operations Officer at Patrol Squadron 10 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Integrations Branch Chief at STRATCOM Center for Combating WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) J8 Directorate in Belvoir, Virginia.
Following these tours, CDR Hinderer was appointed Executive Officer and eventually Commanding Officer of the Navy Recruiting District in Raleigh, North Carolina. During that time the unit received a number of accolades for leading the nation in female enlisted attainment and consistently exceeding recruiting goals. During this time, she had the opportunity to mentor a number of young women.
"I attended many high schools just talking to young women about reaching to the stars - telling them that they could do anything they set their minds to. I started a female mentorship program and female STEM program within the Carolinas which I am extremely proud of."
Currently, CDR Hinderer attends the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and is pursuing a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies along with her Joint Qualified Officer designation.
"My squadron (VP-4) was supposed to deploy in December 2001 and my crew ended up leaving early on deployment to the Middle East to help fight the Taliban and hunt for Bin Laden. My crew flew 12-hour missions every other day, which ended up being a 17-hour crew day after briefs/pre-flights/debriefs, but no one cared. We knew we were part of the coalition team helping to fight terrorism and keep our ground troops safe."
When asked what it is like to be a woman in the United States Navy, CDR Hinderer responds positively.
"I've honestly NEVER been treated any differently than my male counterparts. I've always wanted to outdo all of them but that's my own competitive nature. Women only make up about 5% of Naval Aviation, so working with all men has just been normal for m.e I was the only girl in my flight school class - the only girl to get her wings next to all of my military brothers."
Hinderer comes from a very modest family. She enlisted in the Navy at 19 because her parents could not afford to send her to college and she had no other options. Years later, through hard work and determination, CDR Hinderer has built a successful career. She acknowledges the support she's had along the way, most importantly from her husband Wayne and children Izabella and Chase.
"Little did I know, it was going to change my life for the better. I have an extremely supportive husband who I will be married to this December for 25 years. We actually met the summer before my senior year of high school and we've been together ever since. I surpassed 25 years in the Navy this past February and look forward to more adventures to come."