School of Nursing Graduate Named United States Air Force Cadet of the Year

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When she was a child, Second Lieutenant Kailey Filter heard a story about a pair of stretchers rushed into a hospital, one after another. The first held a man, the second: his missing foot.

The mother of Filter’s close childhood friend was a nurse. She often came home and told the girls about her day at work, accounts that painted an all too clear picture of what nurses see and do.

The stories stuck. Not because they frightened Filter, but because she recognized the small wonders that happen at hospitals every day. Whether it was helping a patient walk again by healing an injured leg or bringing a sick person back to health, Filter says she  “thought it was incredible how science and medicine had evolved to better people’s lives.”

Today, memories of those first peeks into the medical profession remain. Their significance is underscored by the fact that Filter, a recent graduate of the UNC Charlotte School of Nursing, is poised to make an impact of her own.

Accomplished 49er

Graduating near the top of her class from the School of Nursing, Filter also left campus as one of the most decorated Air Force ROTC cadets in the country. Earlier this month she was named USAF Cadet of the Year, an unrivaled honor in the field, says Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sanders, Commander of the AFROTC detachment at UNC Charlotte.

"This is absolutely the highest award given to an Air Force cadet. Out of over 16,000 AFROTC and US Air Force Academy cadets, 2nd Lieutenant Filter was chosen as the best of the best by the Air Force Chief of Staff.”
Filter learned of the award as she transitions into her career. She recently started a job as a medical-surgical unit nurse at Travis Air Force Base in California.

As she trained to be a nurse in the armed services, Filter’s ability to do many different things well at once may be what most set her time at UNC Charlotte apart.

Dr. Kelly Powers, who taught Filter and was her clinical rotation supervisor, calls her ability to balance commitments is “amazing.” Powers says Filter excelled in the classroom and with patients.

“She is knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate. Kailey's future patients and their families will be lucky to have her, as will the nurses and other interdisciplinary team members who get to work alongside her.”

Air Force ROTC Leader and Community Advocate

Turning down a spot at the Air Force Academy, Filter came to UNC Charlotte in 2011 the beneficiary of two respected scholarships. She received the Levine Scholarship, the most prestigious merit award on campus, and also won an AFROTC scholarship.

Like most everything in her life, Filter’s college decision was influenced by a concern for others. She says at first, she wasn’t completely sure the military was right for her, and she worried about taking an Air Force Academy spot from another worthy candidate. AFROTC thus provided an ideal opportunity for Filter to learn about the armed forces. It quickly became clear that she was on the right track.

“I stand for everything the Air Force does and want to serve. The Air Force turned into the perfect combination of medicine and service,” she says.

Filter quickly rose to the top student position at UNC Charlotte’s AFROTC program. As Cadet Wing Commander, she was responsible for leading 80 cadets through military training.

“My biggest kept secret is that all the cadets that I trained taught me more than I could ever teach them,” she says. “Every individual has so much to offer and I was given the opportunity to shape cadets and nudge them to become the people and leaders that I, and everyone else, would want to follow.”

Fellow AFROTC cadet John Jensen describes Filter as a “rare breed.”

“One of the very special things about Kailey is she can, no matter what, be friendly,” he says.  “She may be someone’s polar opposite, but she finds a way to relate to them and get the job done, which is a very important quality in our line of work.”

Filter consistently turned that empathy into action.

She organized two Dance Marathon charity events, which raised $85,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network. She also volunteered 320 hours at the American Red Cross, and was a member of Red Cross response teams at several house fires, helping those affected find a safe place to go.

And her prolific reach included other vulnerable populations. The future nurse teamed with the Urban Ministry Center’s Operation Sandwich to feed hungry Charlotteans, and helped collect 750 books for the Boys & Girls Club.

Levine Scholar

Filter credits the Levine Scholarship for broadening the range of opportunities she had in college. The program paid for her and her fellow 13 scholars to go abroad each summer; she personally traveled to Alaska, Israel, and Cuba.

Chloe Rodengen and other Levine scholars joined her on the trip to Israel. The journey centered on an archaeological dig at Mt. Zion, but it was on the side trips beyond the mountain that Filter’s natural leadership became apparent.

Rodengen remembers encountering an ancient aqueduct called Hezekiah’s Tunnel one afternoon. The narrow underground passageway is believed to have carried water to Jerusalem in biblical times. The students had planned to explore the tunnel, but even Levine scholars are unprepared on occasion. No one in the group had thought to bring a flashlight to navigate the unlit passage. Undeterred, Filter poked ahead through the black air and knee-deep water, leading the group to the other side.

Rodengen says this is typical of her friend. Not a bad sign for Filter’s career; great nurses have an innate understanding of what it means to lead people through dark places back into the light.

People Person

Looking back on this vast collection of experiences, Filter says she occasionally asks herself how she did it all.

“I, like every college student, had my sleepless nights, my breakdowns, and my times when I asked myself why I said ‘yes’ to something.”

But she decided early on to make the most of her college experience.

“I was very passionate about everything I was involved in, and wanted to always give it my all. I am never one to give half effort. My parents did a great job of teaching me from an early age that I should put 100% into the things I am involved with.”

Yet after it all, Filter’s answer as to what she’ll remember most resounds.

“Twenty years from now, I will look back on the pictures that I have, and I probably will not be able to tell you what is going on in the picture, but I will forever be able to tell you who is in the picture with me.”


by: Wills Citty