The walls of the Backdoor Barbershop in Port St. Joe are adorned with images of recognizable blue-and-gold of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

 

The walls of the Backdoor Barbershop in Port St. Joe are adorned with images of recognizable blue-and-gold of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

Those mementos are some of the only clues that the owner is a veteran.

But what exactly does a veteran look like anyway?

Young and away

Katie Kilbourn joined the Navy while still in high school and left for boot camp in 1999.

The Port St. Joe native needed adventure and a way out.

“I was ripe for the picking,” Kilbourn said. “I wanted to travel and I wanted to make my own money.”

After her training in aviation ordinance, Kilbourn was attached to an aircraft squadron based out of NSA Oceana in Virginia Beach.

In March 2001, Kilburn found herself leaving on her first deployment, attached to the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As the ship was preparing to return home at the end of the deployment everything changed.

“I woke up for work one afternoon, I was working nights at the time, and 9/11 happened,” said Kilburn. “It wasn’t 15 minutes after he (the captain) made the announcement that the ship literally pulled a hard left and the whole battle group turned around.”

As the ship sat waiting for orders, rumors began to spread. The sailor’s communications had been cut off and they had no contact with the outside world. Gas masks were hauled up from the depths of the ship, and then live ordinance began to be stacked in the hanger bays.

After that period passed, Kilbourn and her crewmates got to work.

“We started nighttime bombing missions, but we only bombed for about a week,” Kilbourn said. “We were waiting on the U.S.S Kennedy to come relieve us. So once they got on station, we left and they took over.”

It would be Kilbourn’s only overseas deployment, but a memorable one.

“It was the most surreal thing I’ve ever experienced,” Kilbourn said of leaving America pre-9/11 and returning after the event.

Get me to Hawaii

After trying to get to Florida on her next set of orders, Kilbourn threw out a request that she thought was impossible. She asked her chief to get her orders to Hawaii, and surprisingly he did.

But the orders weren’t to an aircraft squadron; instead, they were a military brig in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

For three years Kilbourn worked with career military correctional officers in the brig and spent her off time learning how to surf.

Although she says that the work could be depressing, Kilbourn said she learned a lot about herself from the experience,

“It taught me a lot about how to deal with people, taught me a lot about judgment towards others and making mistakes, and how that could have just as easily have been me on the other side of those windows.”

The “Blues”

Six years into the Navy and Kilbourn was up for orders again. She had flirted with the idea of getting out of the Navy but was unable to settle down on what she wanted to do.

“I was kind of under the gun and one day I was just like screw it and I got on the Blue Angels website,” Kilbourn said.

She had seen the Blue Angels at their home base of Pensacola while at A-School and had wondered at the time what it would be like to be a part of the group.

Her command was in need of guards, especially female guards, but Kilbourn worked up the courage to ask her chain of command for permission to apply for the elite flying team.

Surprisingly her command was supportive but gave the sailor an ultimatum.

She was either going to go to the Blue Angels, or she was going to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to work corrections there.

Kilbourn applied and met all the basic requirements and was called for an interview.

“Once you meet all of the basic requirements, the team chooses its peers,” Kilbourn said.

Kilbourn was selected to join the team and immediately thrown into the high tempo world of the Blue Angels.

“It’s a smaller air squadron than most, so everybody has to do several things,” Kilbourn said. “It is not as specialized, because it is smaller, so it is much more team oriented.”

Shortly after arriving in Pensacola, the whole squadron made its way to Southern California for a couple of months of six days a week training flights.

After that training was completed, the Blue Angels spent every weekend from March until November on the road, and in her four years with the team, Kilbourn made it to 46 states.

“The first year was amazing, the second year you kind of settle into it,” Kilbourn said. “The third year it was a regular job, and the fourth year I was way over it.”

Kilbourn had to get used to the quirks of each pilot and used to the new found fame.

“Instantly you’re someone famous, just by being with them,” said Kilbourn.

After the Navy

Although she greatly enjoyed her time with the “Blues,” Kilbourn still had an itch to get out of the Navy and try something new.

Sitting in traffic in Pensacola one day, her future came right out to her.

“I was trying to think about what I was going to do,” Kilbourn said. “I see this little tiny white building, a little barber shop with a little barber pole outside, and I see the barber in there laughing and cutting up with whoever he was in there with.”

Thinking it over she enjoyed the idea of being her own boss and having the freedom to work at her own pace. She was nervous about learning to cut hair, but she was up to the challenge.

“I’ve done all this other stuff with my life in these ten years, I’m sure I can figure out how to cut hair,” Kilbourn told herself.

So after leaving the Blue Angels and the Navy all together, Kilbourn enrolled in a barber’s school in Pensacola, and like everything she does she dove in completely and finished months earlier than the year and a half schedule.

Kilbourn didn’t plan on coming back to the area to open a shop, but that is just what happened. She first opened a shop in Mexico Beach and business took off.

Along with the stress of a burgeoning business, Kilbourn felt the stress of transitioning out of the military.

“I wanted the simplicity and I wanted to slow down, but that transition was very difficult,” Kilbourn said. “You have to learn the word ‘no’ in business, and that took me a long time to learn,” Kilbourn said.

For eight years Kilbourn has been cutting hair, but Kilbourn has settled with the fact that she can’t stick with one profession and she is fine with that.

“I think I will probably have a couple more careers,” Kilbourn said.