What a leader looks like

Lt. Col. KingSlack shares her story of leadership in the military with tribal students

Published March 5, 2024
Lt. Col. KingSlack speaking at Sunridge Middle School.

Lt. Col. KingSlack speaking at Sunridge Middle School.

Lt. Col. KingSlack speaking at Nixya’awii Community School.

Lt. Col. KingSlack speaking at Nixya’awii Community School.

Lt. Col. KingSlack speaking at Pendleton High School.

Lt. Col. KingSlack speaking at Pendleton High School.

“What does being a leader mean to you?”

This was a question posed by Lt. Col. ShaiLin KingSlack, Commander of the Walla Walla District, when she spoke to tribal students at schools in Pendleton, Oregon.

On January 23, KingSlack visited three schools to talk with students from tribes, mostly the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, about being a leader and overcoming stereotypes. As an Asian American woman, KingSlack knows she doesn’t look like the stereotypical military leader. This put her in a unique position to show students that leaders come in all forms.

“There are small ways to start being a leader in your community or in your family. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the right thing and speak out. Serving something greater than myself, for a mission, gave me purpose and being a leader is really what motivated me,” KingSlack, whose family background is Taiwanese and Filipino, said to the students.

She discussed her personal story of growing up as an Asian American in California, of loving band and swing dancing and clinging to those interests in the face of bullying. She discussed joining the military, and the challenges she overcame to graduate West Point and become a leader in the U.S. Army.

KingSlack met with students from Sunridge Middle School, Nixya’awii Community School, and Pendleton High School. At each school, she answered questions from the students.

“What do you do as a leader?” one student asked.

“As a platoon leader, I would teach soldiers how to be strategic and use equipment. I had to trust in their skills and keep them focused on the mission to lead them to success,” KingSlack replied.

“What was your favorite part of being in band?” another asked.

“I liked the sense of community and friendship,” KingSlack, who played alto saxophone, answered.

These school visits are part of the Walla Walla District’s outreach to tribes.

“We want to engage with tribal communities on different levels when we can,” Pei-Lin Yu, Tribal Liaison for the Walla Walla District, said. “We want to add to our government-to-government relationship and broaden it.”

The district coordinated with Tribal School Guidance Counselor Kendall Rosario to set up times for KingSlack to speak.

“It brought into perspective the opportunity to show students another route to take outside of traditional college,” Rosario said. “I think we should definitely follow-up with a recruiter, as many of the students had questions regarding the military.”

The Walla Walla District hopes to engage with tribal students in other ways in the future.

"We are very interested in bringing tribal students to USACE lands to show how we can work together in stewardship of tribally important natural resources and cultural heritage. Also, we are working on an outreach plan through 'E-Week' to engage with tribal students interested in engineering,” Yu said.