Where Are They Now? Kristen Bakotic, Sandburg
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org June 23, 2013 10:30PM
Kristen Bakotic at her parents' home in Orland Park. | Tony Baranek~Sun-Times Media
MAJOR AWARDS AND DECORATIONS
2009: Deputy Chief of Staff
of the Air Force for Logistics, Installations and Mission
Support Officer of the Year
2009: Headquarters Air Force Civil Engineer Manager of the Year
2008: White House Social Aide Program Selection
2005 and 2006: 48th Civil Engineer Squadron Lance P. Sijan Winner
2005: 48th Civil Engineer Squadron Military Manager
of the Year
2004: Squadron Officer
School Top Third Graduate (Distinguished Graduate)
2002: Installation Excellence DoD Special Recognition
2002: Air Force Runner-up
Civil Engineer Military Manager of the Year
2002: Pacific Air Forces Civil Engineer Military Manager
of the Year
Updated: July 25, 2013 6:47AM
Kristen Bakotic always has been a very good leader.
As a member of Sandburg’s varsity girls basketball team from 1993 to ’96, she kept the offense running smoothly as a starting point guard.
Today, she diagrams some of the country’s most important political events — and in her spare time helps facilitate some of the best White House parties.
The journey in between has seen her pilot a Cessna 172, earn jump wings as a solo skydiver, be selected to become an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and lend her engineering skills to U.S. efforts in the Pacific, Middle East, Europe and here at home.
She’s been around.
“I couldn’t have ever imagined the opportunities the Air Force has provided,” the 35-year-old Orland Park native said. “I’m a firm believer that if you work hard, and luck meets opportunity, you get to do some pretty neat stuff.
“So far, it’s been an honor to serve and an incredible experience.”
Bakotic’s current job title is Deputy Director and Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense for Protocol. She is the leader of a team of 32 military and civilian personnel who provide support for the Secretary of Defense and Deputy Secretary of Defense on protocol manners in hosting domestic or foreign dignitaries.
Since 2010, she has overseen more than 550 Department of Defense events.
“Any time the Secretary of Defense has a guest of any sort, we take care of all the logistics associated,” Bakotic said. “If they’re giving a speech or hosting a ceremony, we are in charge of all of the ceremonial elements, from parking to setting up the ceremonial arrival, to coaching the secretary on what he needs to do regarding proper customs and courtesies (toward the foreign visitor).”
Earlier this year, she stood side by side as an adviser to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during a visit by the presidents and prime ministers of the four major democracies in Africa, as well as numerous foreign Ministers of Defense from places such as Israel, Bahrain, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Since 2008, Bakotic also has participated in the White House Military Social Aide program. She is now the senior aide among the 46 on the staff, and has worked 142 White House events, including the inauguration, when she led President Barack Obama to the platform and presented him with the American flag at a ceremony afterward.
“We do everything from greeting guests through the door to facilitating movements through the White House,” Bakotic said. “Essentially, we act as ambassadors for the president and first lady. When the president comes down to the event, we’re the ones who actually introduce the guests to the president.”
On Feb. 24, Bakotic and the rest of the aides had worked the annual Governor’s Ball at the White House when she was asked to stay on for an after-event.
The after-event turned out to be Michelle Obama doing a satellite presentation of the “Best Picture” award for the 2013 Academy Awards.
“How cool is that, right?” Bakotic said, laughing. “The producers told us to make it casual, make it look like we’re at a party. We all just laughed, and were like, ‘Yeah, right. This is what we do on Sunday night. We hang out and party at the White House.’
“It was really, really surreal. Really awesome.”
Bakotic graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. In the years that followed, she served across the globe in Hawaii and England, on an Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom tour in Qatar, and as a Civic Action Team Commander in the small island nation of the Republic of Palau.
Bakotic’s athletic career was marked with physical struggles, but much success. Her sophomore campaign at Sandburg in 1993-94 was cut short because of knee surgery, but she came back during her junior and senior seasons to earn all-conference and All-Area status while leading the Eagles to a 46-15 record and two Class AA regional titles.
Collegiately, her basketball career ended after two more knee surgeries while at the Air Force Academy. She did return to the court for her Hickam Air Force base team in a Pacific Air Forces basketball tourney in Guam in 2003, leading it to the title and earning MVP honors.
Bakotic coaches a coed adult softball team in Washington, D.C. She lives in a small row house in a historical area three blocks from the Capitol that was built in 1851.
She isn’t looking to stop serving her country any time soon.
Once a point guard, always a point guard.
“I can remember when I first arrived at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii (in 2000) being a second lieutenant walking in the building,” she said. “I was really kind of scared about what this new adventure was going to hold.
“Then I looked at the building and seeing some of the bullet holes and some of the damage from the attack on Pearl Harbor, it made me think, ‘Wow, this is the real deal.’ And from then on out, I’ve loved being an officer, especially the leadership aspect.”
“Where Are They Now?” is an occasional series catching up with former Southland athletes and coaches. Suggestions for future stories may be emailed to email@example.com.