Raised in a house right down the road from the back entrance into Naval Air Station Pensacola, Kayla Romero grew up immersed in U.S. Navy culture and tradition.
But her connection to the Navy was grounded in much more than mere proximity.
Romero’s father, grandfather and paternal great-grandfather were all career Navy men. Even her maternal grandfather fought in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Marine Corps.
After a childhood dominated by connections to the Navy, no one in her life was surprised when as a teenager Romero swore that she’d never enlist. Then again, it also wasn’t too big of a shock when, as a young woman, she changed her mind.
Romero — who as a little girl watched Blue Angels practice out her bedroom window — is now a 24-year-old young woman and is 13 weeks into her training to become a naval aviator.
She spoke to the News Journal from U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island.
“My dad had always said that whatever I did in life, he would be proud of me, but that he didn’t want me to join the Navy. So, naturally, that’s what I did,” Kayla Romero said.
For his own part, her dad, retired Chief Joseph Romero, told the News Journal, “I said that as a, what do you call it … as reverse psychology.”
And it worked.
“It was kind of always a second choice for me, a Plan B, and then my Plan A kept changing,” Kayla said. “And eventually I decided the one thing that hasn’t changed was the idea of joining the military. So, I decided I wanted to try making it plan A.”
Kayla joined the Navy last year and began OCS in September.
“Being from a Navy family, my dad was stationed on carriers,” she said. “So I’ve always seen aviation, been around it, grew up seeing the Blues, worked at the National Flight Academy and it’s the one thing of the few things that I’ve always loved my whole life.”
Kayla was just 13 years old the first time she stepped aboard her first air craft carrier. It was 2011 and her dad’s last deployment at sea during a Tiger Cruise mission on which families of Navy personnel were permitted to come aboard the military vessel for an entire weekend.
The Tiger Cruise afforded Kayla the opportunity to travel from Jacksonville to Virginia aboard the carrier alongside her father.
“Being on the carrier is what started the fantasizing and dreams of how cool it would be to be a naval aviator,” she said. “But at that time I was, I think, 13 at the time. So, I was still in that bit of rebellious stage and was like, ‘Well I don’t want to be like my dad.’”
But the older she became, the more her mind began to change.
Kayla graduated as one of the top students in her class at West Florida High School and was the valedictorian of her college, Florida Tech, where she started out as an aerospace engineering major.
“But then I decided I would rather fly planes than design them,” she explained.
The concept and idea of human flight started to fascinate her more and more.
“Honestly, I just love everything about it,” Kayla said about flying. “I love the exhilaration, the freedom, the excitement of being in the air and feeling like I’m getting to do something that humans shouldn’t naturally be able to do — getting to test our own limits and doing something that is unique and exciting while also, being part of the military, getting to do my duty to my country.”
After she completes OCS, Kayla will be sent straight back to her hometown to begin training at NAS Pensacola to become either a helicopter or jet pilot.
Only about 5% to 10% of each flight school class at NAS Pensacola end up flying fighter planes.
Still Kayla has high hopes and her eyes set on one singular goal.
“I’m hoping for F-18s, sir,” she said.
Asked about if she thought she had the "right stuff" to reach her goal, Kayla responded, “Absolutely, sir.”
Mom, Beth Romero, and dad agree.
“She is a very, very hard worker. She works hard,” Joseph Romero said. “She is very disciplined. The biggest trait is her leadership skills. All throughout her time, she has wanted to step up and be the leader.”
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8680.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola woman in training at U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School