"I think I just wanted to try everything and when I interviewed (at Goucher) they said, 'You can.' And I never doubted them," says Mary Kim.
When Coach Ange Bradley reminisces about former Goucher College lacrosse player, Mary Kim '95, she pictures a small, giggly girl with a swinging ponytail.
Though the ponytail has been wrapped into a bun, the giggle still occasionally bubbles out of Lt. Mary Kim, echoing over the phone line from her office in Baghdad, Iraq. Kim has been stationed in Baghdad since July. As an S2 Operations Officer, Kim provides general military intelligence support for Garrison Operations. She also serves as a liaison with Base Defense Operations and intelligence assets coordinating information on enemy threats and the defense plans at the bases of U.S. allies.
Six years ago, in 2002, Kim joined the Army National Guard in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, becoming part of a group of citizens turned soldiers who the military has nicknamed the "9/11 Responders."
"I had no idea I would emotionally react the way I did from 9/11," Kim says. "I thought, 'What am I doing to help the cause?' We knew these people (terrorists) were out there and I couldn't just sit back. I had to do something."
Since her deployment in July 2007 Kim has spent most of her time in front of a computer in a relatively safe section of Baghdad. Her location gives her sense of security.
"I have it very good. It’s not a very dangerous mission," Kim said.
Kim's decision shocked her friends and family who didn't understand why she would leave a successful career as the director of business development at Anne Arundel Medical Center to join the military.
"I'm a total civilian," Kim said. "I love the civilian world. I love capitalism. I am not a military person by any means."
Though she grew up listening to her parents tell stories about the atrocities suffered under the communist North Korean government, she never considered joining the military. Her immigrant parents instilled in her a deep gratitude for the privileges and freedoms inherent in the United States, but they also stressed the importance of an education.
Growing up in Ellicot City, MD, Kim thought she would become a doctor like her father. And at Centennial High School, where Kim went to school, going to college after graduation was the only step suggested.
"When you see her and meet her you'd just never think that (joining the military) was something that she would do," Bradley said. "But she always had that fight inside of her."
Kim met Bradley her freshman year when she joined Goucher's fledgling women's lacrosse team.
"Most of us hadn't even played a sport in high school," said Kim, who admitted she had never played lacrosse before.
By Kim's senior year, the team was nationally ranked. A fact she attributes to Bradley's coaching.
"She made you want to be a better player. She made you want to win," Kim said. "She had a passion for the sport and it was contagious. She was one of those constructive positive coaches. You wanted to lead the way she did."
Bradley, now the head coach of Syracuse University's women's field hockey team, said Kim always had an incredible determination and work ethic.
It was Bradley's teachings that Kim would grow to rely on in the National Guard.
One of only two women in infantry-based officer training school, Kim was one of the first women to earn the title of Distinguished Honor Graduate. The Distinguished Honor Graduate is the top honor a student can receive at the Commissioned Officer Academy.
"I attribute that to Ange Bradley and all that mental and physical strength that she taught us and her strive for leadership," Kim said.
Kim believes her experiences at Goucher helped her grow and mature.
When she first visited Goucher, Kim said the admissions counselors made her truly believe that the opportunities there were endless.
"I think I just wanted to try everything and when I interviewed they said, 'You can.' And I never doubted them," Kim said.
Kim was one of the first five students to receive Goucher's Trustee Scholarship. The program, now defunct, was launched in 1991 in an effort to make Goucher more competitive. Each year five outstanding students received the scholarship, which paid the full cost of attending four years at Goucher, about $75,000 per student.
An honors student, varsity cheerleader, and first cellist in her high school’s orchestra, Kim was a natural fit.
The small-school atmosphere at Goucher emboldened her to try new things whether sports, a challenging course, or studying abroad, Kim says. She always knew her teachers would take the time to help her, if ever she needed it.
Kim said the year she spent studying at the University of Exeter in England was a pivotal year in her life.
"Studying abroad completely opens your eyes to the entire world and gives you an appreciation for what you have and what’s out there," Kim said.
The cultural and language difficulties she experienced while traveling in both England and Europe led her to better appreciate the struggles of her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Korea. While still abroad, Kim she sent her father a letter thanking him for the sacrifices he made to make a better life for their family.
Kim said Goucher's network opportunities helped shaped her career.
Kim majored in management with a focus on pre-medical studies, thinking that she might follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor. While fulfilling Goucher's premedical studies requirement as a volunteer at the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center she met some doctors who set her on a new career path.
"The doctors told me about the public health program at Johns Hopkins University," Kim said. "They said 'If you're doing management and pre-med, than why don't you do both and go into hospital management?'"
Kim said one of her management advisors, Annette Leps, was married to the dean of operations at Johns Hopkins University and helped her learn more about the program.
"Everything was just a perfect fit," Kim said. "It was kind of this whole life leads you and things happen for a reason and you end up where you need to."
When the terrorist attacks happened, Kim had just begun her dream job as the director of business development for Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, MD.
Her older brother, Gene, responded by joined the U.S. Army Reserves, but Kim hesitated, unwilling to leave her new job. Born less than a year apart, Kim and her brother were very close and talked about joining the military together.
Gene Kim shared his experiences with his little sister. When he finished basic training he told her it was as strenuous as pre-season lacrosse, a sport he had also played. She knew then that she could do it.
"It was kind of a no looking back, no regrets decision," Kim said. "You’d think there would be a lot more thought put into it, because it has now consumed the last five years of my life, but there really wasn't."
Kim said her bosses fully supported her decision to enter the Army National Guard. She took extended leaves for training and when she learned she was being deployed, she left her job.
"What I did in the health care world is situationally what I am doing now as an intelligence officer," Kim said. "I made sure the CEO and the CFO (chief financial officer) knew what was going on competitively around us -- keeping them informed so they could make informed decisions."
Kim is in Baghdad for a 12-month tour, though she suspects that it may be extended.
Speaking on the phone from her office in Baghdad, Kim said she’s sure that she made the right decision.
"I’m ecstatic that I'm here," Kim said. "I joined the army to train to help the war (effort), and I feel like I’m helping. I feel like all the sacrifices I've made were worth it."