Erin Coulehan

Editorial photography by
Jordan Licon

Photography and editorial assistants
Katherine Kocian
Camryn Heon

Additional Photography provided by
Linda Wolfe

In a world where boundaries are constantly challenged and roles are redefined, Linda Wolfe emerges as a remarkable figure embodying the essence of perseverance, determination, and boundless strength. As a mother, CEO, retired U.S. Army veteran, and musician, her life’s narrative showcases the power of resilience and the unwavering pursuit of one’s dreams. Through her journey, Wolfe has shattered stereotypes and overcome obstacles, carving her path to success while fearlessly advocating for what she believes in. Her story serves as a beacon of inspiration, igniting the flames of empowerment and urging others to embrace their passions with unwavering courage and conviction.

“My kids are my priority, you know,” Wolfe reflects, her voice tinged with both pride and nostalgia for her son Khalid and daughter Gina. “It’s crazy. The older they get, the more attached I get to them. It’s just wanting them close, but they’re both adults now. They’re doing their own thing, living their own lives, and you still want that attachment.”

Despite her achievements as an adult, her path was not without obstacles – especially as a teenager growing up in Germany living with her stepmom.

“I was tired of getting hit,” she recalls, reflecting on a pivotal moment of self-assertion that marked the beginning of her journey towards empowerment. “And that was the first time that I stood up for myself at 16. I never went back to being that timid person again. That’s when I started being expressive and telling people how I feel. That started the beginning of Linda.”

Wolfe was faced with a challenge to sink or swim, then mastered a sea of uncertainty while learning to survive on her own.

“Fortunately, I had friends who would take me in, but I felt like a freeloader and I don’t like that feeling,” she says.

Wolfe came to the U.S. where she pursued a career in music and was in the process of signing a record deal with Mercury Records, with artists like Chaka Khan noticed her singing talent. A botched deal by a less than stellar manager botched the deal and her music career took an unexpected turn that led to the U.S. Army.

This chapter in her life began with the fierce determination of a young woman navigating the complexities of motherhood while serving in the military.

“I was a single mother in the military trying to make rank take care of my child,” she recounts, reminiscing about the challenges she faced. Yet, amidst the trials and tribulations, Wolfe found solace and purpose in her service, recognizing that the army provided a refuge from the hardships she encountered in her youth.

“That moment, when I had my first child is when I realized that, ‘Okay, I gotta stop playing. I have a whole other human to take care of. It’s not me anymore,” she adds.

As a leader in the military, Wolfe was driven by a profound sense of empathy and compassion, shaped by her own experiences of adversity. “I never wanted to make my children feel like my stepmother made me feel,” she asserts, underscoring her commitment to fostering an environment of support and encouragement for those under her watch.

Her journey took her to distant lands, where she served her country with unwavering dedication.

“It was heart wrenching when I had to leave my children and go to war,” she recounts the sacrifices demanded by military service. “It was very, very, hard.”

She lived in a tent in Iraq for a year when Khalid was about six or seven years old and Gina only 18-months old.

“I would call and think ‘my baby is growing up, but she’s growing up without me,” she recalls. “It was the hardest year being away from them and not knowing if I was going to make it home.”

While serving in Iraq, she oversaw logistics that included distributing supplies, food, and hope.

“Iraq is hot,” Wolfe explains, “One time a soldier came in from one of the other posts, and I gave him some cold water then I saw a tear come down his face. I asked him ‘What’s wrong with you?’”

The answer was simple.

“You don’t understand the last time I had cold water,” he responded.

“It just broke my heart,” Wolfe recalls. “We didn’t have bathrooms, we didn’t have showers. I remember seeing the shower trailers for the first time and being so happy to see running water.”
Amidst the trials of military life, she found solace in her passion for music, a lifelong dream that she pursued with unwavering determination. “I always wanted to be a singer,” she reflects, recalling the trials and triumphs of her journey as an artist.

She traveled to Germany to audition for the chorus and became a bandsman who would travel the world to perform for troops at various military installations in a multitude of countries where she served as an example of progressive women’s empowerment in the U.S.

“I went to Kuwait and other places where they could see what America was doing with female leaders. I was the leader of the group in places where women are oppressed,” she says. “You’d go places where females walk two steps behind a man, and I was not used to that. My group was a rock band and I would sing all kinds of songs.”

Despite her strength, discipline, and talents, Wolfe faced challenges in the military for the simple fact that she is a woman.

“I can’t talk about what it is now but I can talk about when I got here. Being a woman and a Black woman in a man’s army is a whole thing. You have to do two times better than a man to get that commendation. And I was always taught that you lead from the front,” she says.

“So if I had soldiers whoI wanted to get 300 on a PT test, which is an excellent PT test, then I had to do it, too,” she adds. “I was Air Assault.”

Air Assault School is a specialized training program in the U.S. Army designed to prepare soldiers for air assault operations. The primary focus of this training is to teach soldiers the necessary skills and techniques required to conduct helicopter-borne insertions, extractions, and other air assault missions – and it is extremely hard.

The training typically takes place over a period of 10 to 14 days and is physically and mentally demanding. It involves a rigorous combination of classroom instruction, hands-on training, and practical exercises.

Key components of air assault training include:

Rappelling: Soldiers are taught how to safely descend from helicopters using various rappelling techniques. This includes rappelling from different heights and angles, as well as rappelling with and without equipment.
Helicopter Operations: Soldiers learn about helicopter capabilities, loading and unloading procedures, and aircraft safety protocols. They also practice embarking and disembarking helicopters quickly and efficiently.
Sling Load Operations: Soldiers receive instruction on sling load operations, which involve attaching equipment and supplies to helicopters for transportation. This includes proper rigging techniques and procedures for securing loads.
Physical Fitness: Air Assault School requires soldiers to meet strict physical fitness standards. Training includes intensive physical conditioning, obstacle courses, and timed runs to ensure soldiers are physically prepared for the demands of air assault operations.
Written Exams: Soldiers must pass written exams covering topics such as aircraft safety, aeromedical evacuation procedures, and air assault tactics.
Graduation Ruck March: The culminating event of air assault training is the graduation ruck march, during which soldiers must complete a timed 12-mile march carrying a specified load. This event tests soldiers’ endurance and stamina, serving as the final challenge before graduation.

Wolfe was the only woman in her class who made it through the training despite her boots having skinned her shins. Not only did she persevere through the pain, but also with an audience of onlookers.

“I was not going to quit. They saw I was not going to quit,” she says while recounting the stakes of completing the challenge. “You’re crying, your feet are hurting, they’re blistered up, you graduate that same day. That’s the thing: if you don’t make it you don’t graduate that same day.”

After successfully graduating from Air Assault School, the challenges persisted – but so did Wolfe.

“I had to do a lot to be the best of soldiers to get where I needed to go,” she explains. “I had to bust the doors open to be the first to do this and the first to do that because the avenue wasn’t originally there for me. So I had to make my own.”

Wolfe served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, where she inspired soldiers around the globe and would receive emails in thanks for leading the way for women.

Yet, amidst the accolades and achievements, Wolfe’s most profound role remained that of a mother.

“I was still in the military when Khalid went to L.A. to do his first album,” she says.

Khalid’s star was rising as a globally-renowned singer while the sun was setting on Wolfe’s career in the military, shining a light toward a new path and a new world not only as a civilian, but also the mother of a super star.

“It’s harder for me because I have to share him with the world,” she confides, speaking of her son’s burgeoning music career. “But I have to share him. And it’s hard for a mother to do that.”

But they make it work.

From catching a flight to L.A. to join her son at the Grammys, to calling his management team to coordinate schedules, to exchanging quick texts to let them know they’re still connected as mother in son.

“I’ll go to one of his shows and we’ll be backstage and I’m able to touch my child, take him in and know that he’s okay. That’s all I need,” she says. “Then, I can fan girl out.”

Today, she serves as CEO of The Great Khalid Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating burdens of need for students by providing music education programs, scholarship awards, and more.

As she reflects on her journey, Wolfe’s resilience and unwavering love shine through. From the battlefields of Iraq to the bright lights of the stage, she has weathered storms and soared to new heights, guided by the enduring power of maternal love.

“I didn’t know that I was going to have a kid who would be KHALID, with capital letters,” she says. “But I knew that I was put on Earth to bring joy to people. And I know that I’m good at that.”