When Kelsey Hastings was a young girl, she went to a summer festival in Seattle. Among those performing that weekend was the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, a team of Marines that executes incredibly precise routines full of spins and tosses of their hand-polished M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets.
"I saw them and I was like, 'That is the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life,'" Hastings said.
Two decades later, she is leading the storied 24-Marine unit as its first female member and commander.
The Marine Corps press release that announced the groundbreaking posting last week lauded now-Capt. Hastings' "tireless work ethic and high standard of performance" and called her "a stand-out performer." But it's her overwhelming enthusiasm and affection for the Corps that's most apparent when she talks about her new role.
Military.com was able to interview Hastings on Wednesday at Marine Barracks Washington -- itself a historic place that boasts being "the oldest post of the Corps."
During the conversation, Hastings said that she never set out to be a first for anything, instead focusing on her work. The nomination to lead the Silent Drill Platoon came from the commander of the Marine barracks, Col. Robb Sucher.
Hastings recalled being in a meeting with Sucher when he asked her, "Hey, this is the role that I want to put you in. ... Is that something you're prepared for?"
"Those are some top-notch guys so I am like, 'Oh, sure, I'll lead them,'" she said before bursting out in a laugh, one of many during the conversation.
The Marine officer said she joined the Corps to follow in her dad's footsteps; he was an infantry Marine himself, another example of a long tradition of family service in the branch.
"He'd tell some random stories of boot camp or when he was at the fleet at the dinner table when I was a kid," Hastings said.
"I was howling. I thought they were the funniest stories, and I was like, 'Oh my God, I want a story like that!'"
Then, when it came time to pick a specialty, Hastings said that she "fell madly in love" with artillery after seeing a shoot early in her officer training.
"When the round does go off, it just shakes your whole body, and you're like, 'Yeah!!'" she explained, again with a laugh.
Hastings said that she sees her impact as a groundbreaking woman as being mixed in with the unit's mission to be one of the most visible parts of the Marine Corps.
"Everyone here has an opportunity to be a role model," she said. "You portray something that's bigger than yourself."
Before coming to Marine Barracks Washington in 2020, Hastings was stationed in Hawaii with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, for about three years. There, she first began to command Marines and eventually became a battery executive officer.
To her, leadership "is not hard." "It's more just caring about the Marines and their well-being and making sure that the mission has been accomplished," she explained. Though, she did admit that she's called her dad -- now a firefighter in Seattle -- for advice and to hear out the occasional complaint.
"It's a great honor; it's awesome to be a role model for both men and women," Hastings said. "But I feel really privileged to be able to lead with these Marines and get to work with them."
Hastings will command the Silent Drill Platoon for the 2023 parade season. She previously served as a marching platoon commander in 2021 and a marching company executive officer in 2022.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.