Cullinnan, who graduated in May from the University of Notre Dame and is undergoing intelligence officer training, was honored Oct. 22 during a ceremony at the Pentagon with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
“I wish I could tell you this will be the only time you’ll be at the Pentagon,” Goldfein said, according to an Air Force news release. “But I’d be lying because, in the course of your career, I’d be surprised if you don’t get tagged for a tour.”
As a senior at Notre Dame, Cullinan led Notre Dame’s Detachment 225 as its commander. Several critical changes marked her leadership, including updating Detachment 225’s physical training program, which led the detachment’s scores to rank within the top five in the U.S.
Cullinan didn’t want to take too much credit for the detachment’s success, and noted that any of the cadets from Detachment 225 were worthy of the honor.
“It was a team effort, and I feel that it’s not only me getting recognized but Detachment 225 as a whole getting recognized for all of our accomplishments,” Cullinan said at the ceremony.
Military life isn’t new for Cullinan, who comes from a dual-military family where her mother served in the Army and her father served in the Air Force. Likewise, her two siblings are now Air Force officers.
“The truth is, the best parts about Kirsten’s character were developed around the kitchen table in your home,” Goldfein said.
According to Cullinan’s father, their family fostered a competitive environment among their children.
“They are very accomplished and definitely tell each other about their accomplishments and poke a little bit sometimes,” said retired Col. Pete Cullinan. “So, this one Kirsten has achieved is obviously a big deal, and I am sure we will be hearing about it, and I’m sure there will be more amongst them to follow.”
The Royal Air Squadron, a private British group that supports aviation in the United Kingdom and maintains aviation links around the world, first created the award in 2000 to affirm and celebrate the close relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain. Those eligible for consideration — Air Force Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corps and Officer Training School cadets — undergo review from the British squadron.
Each cadet of the year adds his or her name to the Millennium Sword of Friendship, which the Brits gifted in 2000 and is featured at the Pentagon.
Kyle Haak, a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet, was presented the award in 2018.