Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch may have been born in the United States, but she’s always felt that she had to earn her stars and stripes.
Kickbusch broke barriers as the highest ranking Latina in the Combat Support Field of the U.S. Army at the time of her retirement. While she used to lead soldiers, today she uses her accomplished career to lead and inspire children to succeed through her organization Educational Achievement Services.
Her path to success all began with inspiration from her father. As a Mexican immigrant, he always felt that he had to earn his place in the United States and he worked to convey that message to all ten of his children.
“My father always said ‘if you cannot give to your country, don’t take from it,’” Kickbusch says.
At the age of 22, after graduating from Hardin Simmons University, she decided to take her father’s advice to heart and enlisted as an officer in the U.S. Army. Although she was initially brought into a separate women’s corp entity, the commission was disbanded.
“My first units were all men and I was the only woman leading the platoon. It was a combat ready unit — we could be in a combat area within 72 hours — and they had to take orders from me,” Kickbusch recalls. ”I was responsible for their lives.”
If Kickbusch was scared, she didn’t show it. She realized early on in her twenties, she had to either step up to the challenge or go home. It was an experience that toughened her and resulted in her promotions to upper levels.
But not everyone Kickbusch led was happy to see her rise through the ranks so quickly. While she saw her role as a Latina woman secondary to fulfilling her missions, others did not.
“Sometimes there was a gentle push back from men. A lot of men were still in the cultural paradigm of women are the mother of children and they go out and deal with the elements,” Kickbusch says. She remembers one instance when she was promoted to a general’s aide and some of her colleagues were infuriated with her prestigious role.
“One captain was saying, how dare I think I could do something like that, I was not one of the boys,” she says. “But that was the exception. I couldn’t have found a greater mentor than the general I worked with.”
Kickbusch was on the fast track to the top. But just when she was offered a top command post, she shocked the military by turning it all down. The reason? Her mother’s dying wish. In her mother’s final days, Kickbusch says that she expressed her wish for her daughter to serve her community.
“She told me that leadership is about service. I promised her that I would [serve],” she recalls, fighting back tears as she spoke of her mother.
“I got a call from the Pentagon and they were congratulating me for making the battalion command list,” Kickbusch says. “But if I accepted that position I would commit to the army for six more years. I just thought, when is it time to do what your promised?”
After Kickbusch turned down the position and asked for permission to retire, she began Educational Achievement Services, a series of personal development workshops implemented in schools around the country. One component of the program is a Family Leadership Institute that helps parents develop the skills and abilities to motivate their children and get involved with their schooling.
Kickbusch may have had a long and prosperous career with the military, but that doesn’t mean that she’s set for life. The hard-working trailblazer works fourteen hour days and donates nearly 40 percent of her fortune. She shares her wealth with the students she works with, buying them everything from books to school supplies to groceries.
“Kids need to be developed and know what’s beyond the streets,” Kickbusch says. “I want them to feel that they have a choice between the streets and a successful education and career.”