Kayla Weber identified 19 high value targets during her seven-year career as an intelligence analyst for the Iowa National Guard.
Seventeen-year-old Weber graduated high school one year early and was taking classes at Des Moines Area Community College in 2007 when she was introduced to the idea of joining the military.
“It was just this idea I really latched onto,” she said. “I didn’t have a specific goal or job or anything in mind. I just had this really strong feeling that this was the direction I was supposed to be going.”
At the time, Weber was the first person in her family to join the military.
“It was a tough time for my mother and I around that period, because I was doing something she had never in her mind as a mother had planned for,” Weber said.
Her mother took four months to sign the paperwork that allowed her to join.
She graduated basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina on her 18th birthday.
Unlike most National Guard members, Weber went home to complete a year of college at the University of Iowa before going to advanced individual training at Fort Huachuga along the U.S. border in Arizona. She was consistently told not to worry about being deployed as most knew their deployment date about two years ahead of time.
Weber went home, enrolled in another semester of college and got in the routine of a monthly drill schedule.
She was finishing finals in May 2010 and just adopted a dog when she received notice that she would deploy in August.
She was waiting to tell her mother about the deployment until after her family’s camping trip to her hometown of Sturgeon Bay.
To her surprise, a cashier at a gas station recognized her last name on her I.D. and asked if she was being deployed. Word had gotten out around town and she had to tell her mother on the trip. The two did not speak for two weeks.
With just months to make preparations and place her dog with a friend in exchange for two gallons of milk, Weber headed to Champ Shelby in Mississippi.
What Weber did not know was that she was filling an empty slot in a different unit.
“The day before we deployed, like the day before we got on the buses to go to Mississippi, I showed up with all my gear, all my stuff ready to go and I looked around and didn’t know one single person. Not one,” she said.
Four hours later, Weber and her mother were at the family picnic. Weber stood in line bearing her name on the back of her hat when someone called out her name. She turned around to see a 6-foot-tall gentleman named Kyle giving her a toothy smile.
“My mom looked at me and said, ‘Who is that idiot screaming your name?’” she said. “He is now my husband.”
The National Guard had a program that allowed employers to shadow soldiers on training stops for two days while they prepared for deployment. Weber was asked to lead a reporter around the camp from the Des Moines Register.
The reporter turned out to be her mother.
“I think she got more of an intimate look into my career, but I think she needed it more than anyone else,” Weber said.
She said her mother understood she must love what she is doing if she is willing to do this.
One night, she took her mother to hang out with friends, one of whom was Kyle. Her mother knew that the two of them had been getting close.
“She pulled him aside and said, ‘You’re in charge of bringing her home safe.’”
Weber deployed to Afghanistan with nearly 4,000 troops. She was assigned as a lethal targeting analyst of a par 1 province to collect levels of intelligence on specific people to make them high value targets.
“So basically, I’m collecting evidence on the bad guys to prove that they’re the bad guys in layman’s terms,” she said.
She worked with soldiers and troops on the ground to develop credible evidence following warfare rules and conventions to set up missions to capture or kill. She also worked closely with Kyle Weber, who was in human intelligence.
Weber wanted to know what the villages looked like. After receiving permission and writing many letters, she was able to make trips outside the wire. She did not know Kyle kept the additional burden from her mother.
“He was reluctant, and it wasn’t until later that I understood why,” she said.
On one of their trips, he jokingly tried to sell her in exchange for a camel, a story her mother was shocked to hear at their wedding.
As they moved through the town, a woman in a burka approached their group. She placed her daughter’s hand in Weber’s and darted through the crowd.
“This woman gave her daughter to me hoping that I would take her and give her a better life. That’s really hard to digest at 20,” she said.
The little girl helped the group of soldiers identify her mother, but Weber continued to think about the life the girl would have.
Weber said that while this moment changed her, the hardest part of her deployment was the five soldiers they lost. She was in his flight line of a soldier whose brother was flown in from where he was stationed in Candahar.
“We flew up to put this 19-year-old in a coffin,” she said solemnly. “We walked his body onto the plane and sent him home with his brother and his mother. That was the hardest part.”
Through the hardships, Weber deems her deployment a success.
“I had 19 high-value targets that were able to be captured or killed while I was there, which I would consider to be very successful, and then they bring you home.”
Weber was officially discharged in 2016 and struggled to find tasks like grocery shopping important again.
After multiple career changes, she began nursing school in 2017.
“It took me a long time to realize that I had found something just as important and something I was just as passionate about as the military when I found nursing,” she said.
She and her husband, who will celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary in October, moved to McFarland earlier this year and joined the American Legion Post 534. She hopes to get more young female soldiers and veterans involved.