Kim DeBar of Greenwood grew up dreaming of following in her father’s – and grandfather’s – footsteps.
Her grandfather served in the Army and was buried at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Her father had forged a career in the military, retiring from the Navy as a senior chief petty officer and earning entry into the Chief’s Mess, a name given to a fraternity exclusive for master chief, senior chief, and chief petty officers in the Navy.
DeBar grew up dreaming of following in their footsteps and becoming a member of the Chief’s Mess herself.
“I was daddy’s little girl. Everything he did, I was right at his heels,” he said. “He was in the Navy for 28 years and was a Vietnam veteran. I wanted to experience all that he had.”
“I saw all the love of the people he served with and the way they supported each other. I didn’t understand what that was at the time, but I wanted it,” she added.
So she joined the Navy immediately after high school, leaving for boot camp the summer after she graduated.
DeBar endured the rigors of boot camp, finding a joy in learning along the way. An average student in high school, DeBar was challenged by the military history classes of basic training that required her to study far more than she had been used to.
With only a certain amount of time to study during the day, DeBar would spend nights underneath her blanket with a penlight, studying for an hour or two before going to bed. Her work ethic would prove valuable when returning to UAFS to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Her career as a reservist saw tours to Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Hawaii, where she primarily worked in logistics. In her various logistics-related roles, she acquired equipment for special operations units and expedited parts for many ships and aircraft while serving overseas.
“I loved it. You’re getting these high priority messages from the ships and squadrons saying, ‘I need this part right away,’ and you have to immediately get on all the supply channels and find it fast,” she said. “It was high-speed and low-drag, as we called it.”
But throughout all her assignments, her focus remained on one goal: becoming a part of the Chief’s Mess. She continued to advance through the military, and it was while serving in Gulfport, Miss. in 2003 that she earned promotion to chief petty officer.
But her entry to the Chief’s Mess was just beginning. To officially join the group, she had to undertake two months of orientation, where they compress years of “heritage, customs and traditions” to pass down to the new inductees.
After she completed the orientation, she was formerly inducted during a pinning ceremony and achieved her dream.
“It was overwhelming. It was a flood of emotion,” she said. “It was one of those monumental moments in my entire life, up there with the birth of my children. I was grinning for hours after, I was so elated.”
After finishing out her Navy career in Hawaii, DeBar returned to the Little Rock Reserve Center for two more years before officially retiring from the Navy.
“Technology was changing so rapidly, and I just figured maybe it was my time,” she said.
After moving to Greenwood, her and her husband, also a retired chief petty officer in the Navy, had an epiphany one day in 2015 about continuing their college education. Both DeBar and her husband attended college throughout their careers in the Navy but had not yet completed their degrees. With the demands of a military career and regular deployments, along with building a raising a family, it was sometimes difficult to prioritize education, and oftentimes took a backseat.
“We looked at each other one day and said, ‘Let’s finish what we started,’” she said. “Our daughter said she wanted to work for NASA and build rocket ships. I knew she would need higher education, and I could see conversations about it where she would say, ‘Well, you quit.’ I didn’t want those words to haunt me.”
Both DeBar and her husband decided to attend UAFS after hearing of the numerous benefits the university has for veterans. She joined the Student Veterans Organization, the Non-Traditional Student Organization, and also mentors five UAFS student veterans through a university program to continue her passion of working with young people.
“My goal was to start school and not take on anything, but it just naturally happened,” she said with a laugh.
After retiring, DeBar still keeps a “lifer book,” a binder of certificates, photos and other paraphernalia from her time during the Navy. She looks back on her time in the military fondly.
“I have counseled, trained and mentored hundreds of military personnel in my 26-year career, and I plan on continuing to help others for the rest of my life,” DeBar said. “It fills my heart to help those who eventually realize their own potential buried inside themselves. I thank God for putting those people in front of me every day so I can lift them up.”
DeBar will graduate with honors this December with her associate degree in general studies and plans to continue pursuing a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from UAFS beginning in the spring semester.
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Through a small campus, dedicated professors, and the university’s unique bond with its community, students at UAFS are able to do more in the areas they are passionate about, both on- and off-campus, in a way that prepares them for post-graduate success. To find out how you can do more at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu.