Captain (Retd) Kate Pentney

“Flying is like being free—I always find it very therapeutic.”

Toronto, Ontario

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Joined

Enlisted in Halifax, NS: 2004

Trade

Pilot

Postings

  • Greenwood, NS: 2004-2005
  • Moose Jaw, SK: 2005-2009
  • Winnipeg, MB: 2009-2017
  • Toronto, ON: 2017-2018
  • Trenton, ON: 2018-2019
HTML5 Transcript/Captions

[Kate Pentney, Captain (retd)] I have a base-level hum.

People always think I'm timid and nervous, but it's just part of the hum.

[Hum intensifies]

[Adam Pentney, Lieutenant-Colonel] I think the kids would say about their mom,

that mommy is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

She definitely has a fan club in our three kids, no doubt about it.

She loves them, and they love her, and I kind of interfere, I think, sometimes.

[Kate] I was a civilian pilot, first.

I went to Seneca College, and I learned to fly there.

I had applied for the Air Force three times.

It took me three times to get in just because I was a girl.

So I joined the Air Force. It was great.

I flew the Harvard, then I flew the Hawk.

Then I went back on the Harvard, and I instructed on it for a little bit,

and then I flew the Dash 8.

I try to remember the bits that were bad aren't reflective of the whole system.

[Adam] Things aren't exactly as you thought they would be.

I'd say her injuries add a certain tapestry and texture to our life.

Nothing is perhaps as easy as it is for other families,

but that doesn't mean that it's...anything is insurmountable.

It's just us. That's the way that we are now.

[Music]

[Kate] We did centrifuge training.

They put you in a ball on the end of a lever,

and it spins you around, kinda like a ride.

I was like 130 pounds.

The gravity just pulls the blood out of your head and you

[Finger snap] blackout.

[Music]

My surgeon said, "Basically, it's a crushed soda can."

That's my neck...is a crushed soda can, and they went in and they tapped it all out,

and there's nothing actually touching in the centre anymore,

but the signal's burned on,

so it can't turn off. All of my nerve pain,

is just constantly firing. That it's still being compressed,

even though we've decompressed them.

It's a lot of work, being broken.

[Music]

I was posted to an Army base to put me in the holding spot, in Toronto.

The first day, I actually showed up,

DRDC is on one side, which is Air Force,

and where we do the centrifuge, and how I hurt my neck.

Then on the other side is the Army base.

I showed up on the air side, and they were like...

I was like, "No.

I'm not in the Army. No. No, thank you."

Now, looking back and remembering how lonely I was over all of those times,

and all of the different situations, I don't want anybody else to feel like that.

[Davelynn Rooker, Captain] Kate is a life force, I tell you.

She is one of the types of people that you hope that you meet in your life.

She just brings other people together.

It doesn't matter what you have going on, Kate is a connector of people.

She's just created this her own way,

her own pseudo-lady-boss-military

of women that get together and take care of each other.

[Kate] The Agency is a group that I started,

has military girls, it has older, younger,

anyone who expresses any interest in having friends.

I really wanted a group that was really supportive.

I think we're up to 137 members now.

I think we could be a whole thing.

[Davelynn] I can't imagine Kate being the type of person to not be so strong.

I think that this group has really helped her transition,

because the military is very good at just

you naturally, intuitively have these types of things.

You just always have people around you.

[Kate] I'm so invested now,

in just trying to make people feel all loved.

[Music]

veterans.gc.ca

Government of Canada

Introduction

Kate Pentney was a civilian pilot before she joined the military. She learned to fly at Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario. She got her instructor license and taught air cadets. After a brief move to the United States, Kate returned to Canada and applied for the Air Force.

A military woman

Kate says that being a woman in the military was sometimes lonely. Even during training, her gender left her little room for error. "When you made a mistake, it was like all women made that mistake," she says. So the women would isolate themselves, hoping to be judged on their own merits, not on the mistakes of others. Kate says this could make the women turn on each other instead of work together.

Kate walking with two of her children in the backyard.

"I have periods that I loved, absolutely loved. It was a great community," Kate explains. "I didn't necessarily always like my posting, but I liked being part of the family. I liked to wear my uniform. I liked being the girl pilot."

A career-ending injury

In her career, Kate flew the Harvard, Hawk, King Air and Bombardier Dash 8 aircrafts. She was a pilot for about five years before injuring her neck in centrifuge training, which led to her medical release.

Because of her injury, Kate's service in the military came to an abrupt end. She struggled with release. "I did not go gracefully. I wanted to fly so badly," she says. "I literally left with nails dug into the floor. They had to drag me out."

Kate wanted to be a role model. When she got injured she felt she had lost that opportunity. "I wanted to fly the Prime Minister around. I had all kinds of things I wanted to do," she says.

After her injury, Kate was posted to a Joint Personnel Support Unit in Toronto (Transition Group). This transition unit provides ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members with the opportunity to focus on recovery and rehabilitation, with the primary aim of returning to duty.

Kate says even though she knew there was a possibility to return to the Air Force after rehab, she wasn't hopeful. "I didn't have a community to go back to," she says.

Kate with a friend from The Agency.

The struggle for proper treatment

The severity of Kate's injury went overlooked and undiagnosed by male doctors for a long time. "They kept saying 'it's hormones' or 'it's babies.' It was always this and that, but it never made sense," she says. It wasn't until she was seen by a female doctor that she started to get real answers. An MRI scan showed Kate had multiple herniated disks in her neck. She had surgery and it made things worse.

"They took a piece of bone from my hip and put it in my neck. It was the worst possible imaginable pain. My surgeon was convinced I was fine and I was convinced I wasn't." Kate says she experienced days when the pain was so bad that she didn't want to be alive. "I was in a very, very dark place," she explains.

So Kate went to another doctor who recommended additional surgery. This time they used bone from a donor and fused together four vertebrae in her neck. It's been a long and difficult recovery, but better than the last time. Now she takes pain medication and goes to two separate physical therapists—one for her hip and one for her neck—several times a week.

A new normal

After her surgery, Kate had to adjust to a new way of life—one without the community she was used to, without the Air Force and without flying. Only now, she had to learn how to cope with a limited range of motion in both her hip and neck.

Her family's support—especially from her husband and kids—was a huge part of getting her through the transition.

"We looked at what brought me joy and what brought pain," she says. "So, I have a list of things that I don't do. I don't fold laundry, it's way too much motion for me. But I never liked folding laundry anyway, it wasn't my thing."

Kate and her husband, Adam.

The Agency

Another thing that helped Kate through the transition was a new community. It was not a part of the military, but still tied to it; a support group founded by Kate called The Agency.

"It has military girls in it, it's all women. Older, younger, single moms, single people, it's spouses, it's neighbours. Anyone who expresses any interest in having friends can come in," she says. The group has grown over time from just a handful of people to 217 members. The only one rule: you must be kind.

Kate says the support group is especially active during times of stress or difficulty. "Notoriously, as soon as your spouse deploys, there will be a disaster. Someone will be sick, the furnace will break, trees will fall over, the toilet is broken. So our group is there for that."

The Agency meets throughout the week to go for dinner, watch TV and support each other any way they can. It's about community and knowing someone has your back. Something that Kate felt was missing from her own life after she released.

Advice for transitioning Veterans

"Leaving the military is really scary. It's a grieving process and a loss. It's important to understand that. This wasn't just a job, this was a full life investment," Kate says.

There is often a lot of negativity surrounding transition. Even in her personal experience, Kate says she felt a lot of hurt and anger towards herself, her family and the system. She urges anyone who feels like that to reach out and find a person who can support them.

"You need to get someone to be your advocate," she says. That's why Kate is so passionate about The Agency, because she gets to see people taking care of each other. That brings her joy.


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