In the spring of her final year of college, laws that would allow women to pilot in the Marine Corps were passed. Once she graduated, Karen completed a flight physical and went on her way to Officer Candidate School in the summer of 1994. She completed her studies as an honor graduate, received a physical training award and was commissioned as a second lieutenant that same year.
Karen reportedly grew up knowing that she wanted to be a fighter pilot – and the doubts of others fueled her motivation.
In May 1996, after primary flight training, she was the first female Marine to receive a jet training slot. She completed intermediate jet training at Naval Air Station Meridian, flying the T-2C, then went on to fly the TA-4J with Training Squadron 7. In October of 1997, she not only made military women’s history by earning her wings, but she was also the top graduate of her class. From there, she was selected to fly the F/A-18 Hornet and assigned to Fleet Replacement Squadron UMFAT-101 at El Toro, CA, then to Miramar, CA.
In 2001 Lt. Col. Brannen deployed with RMFA- 242 to Iwakuni, Japan and earned her Air Combat Tactics Instructor certification. In 2002, she attended Expeditionary Warfare School leading up to her assignment as an active duty officer to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 at Andrews Air Force Base.
In her following tour, at VR-1, she flew C-37Bs where she was responsible for transporting personnel such as the Secretary of the Navy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and various Congressmen.
Karen left active duty in 2007, but remained a Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel serving as the Officer in Charge of the Peacetime Wartime Support Team in Savannah, Georgia.
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