Like many young veterans, Leaphy Khim watched the September 11th attacks while still in school — only Khim was a senior in high school and had the chance to do something about it. When she graduated in 2002, she joined the Marine Corps, looking for the physical and mental challenge the Corps gives those who want to earn the title of United States Marine.
Taking the hard road is something that defines her life, and it shows in almost everything she does. When she enlisted, a grueling combat role wasn’t an option for her, so she chose to be an electrician, thinking it would be a career she could use once she got out of the military. By the time that day came, though, Khim had no intention of wiring houses — she wanted to be thrown through windows.
Today, she’s an actress and stuntwoman who keeps her combat skills fresh with Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing while staying fit with a combination of yoga, crossfit, running and gymnastics. Just as she made Sergeant in the Marine Corps, she started from the bottom and worked her way up. Now 34 years old, the South Philadelphia native has no intention of slowing down, but she did take a moment to tell us how she got to where she is.
It’s hard not to react and serve when your country is being attacked. I was patriotic and wanted to do my part, so I enlisted. Other reasons are that I wanted and needed the challenge, both physically and mentally. I joined the Marines because, in my opinion, it was the hardest branch of the services — you know I’m right. We had the longest bootcamp and more extensive training thereafter. Our physical and testing qualifications, like running, swimming, shooting and combatting were always higher than the requirements of the other branches. So, I figured if I wanted to join the military, I might as well do the hardest one.
In preparation for the next chapter of my life, I moved to California to pursue the “American Dream.” I knew I wanted to work in the movie business, so I spent that last couple of years of my military contract “courtesy drilling” at different units in California, in places like Bakersfield, Seal Beach, Pendleton and Miramar.
Going from boots to desk, which wasn’t fun at all. I started at the bottom of the totem pole. I worked for MGM Studios as a receptionist and worked my way up the corporate ladder for a few years. There I worked as a receptionist for a few years, then I was a production assistant, runner, camera girl, assistant director, associate producer, background extra and now, finally, a stuntwoman, actress and model.
Being in this business can be extremely challenging, especially when you don’t fit society’s “norm.” I’ve gone to many auditions for military and/or veteran roles and they either tell me I’m too pretty (model-esque), too short or that I’m a woman and “women are not in battle.” Yup, believe it or not, I had a casting director who was also a woman straight up tell me that. Are we living in the 21st century, folks?
My way of overcoming these challenges is to continue doing what I’m doing and not listening to those naysayers — working harder, building my own brand. In the Marines, the worst thing you can do is give up. And that’s not going to happen to me.
I would tell them the civilian world can be a very scary place because the culture is different from what they’re used to. Don’t be alarmed when you have to figure out everything on your own — no more schedules or getting a paycheck every couple weeks can be extremely scary at first, but you’ll learn. Learn how to save money, budget and meet people that don’t share the same views as you and who dress differently. And be ready to work harder.
To pursue a nontraditional job like mine, I really recommend doing a lot of research and legwork. I call it “hustling!” There are many resources, organizations and people out there you should connect with to see if they’ll be willing to mentor you or help you get to where you need to go. Reaching out, networking and connecting with people is key. Putting yourself out there is another great quality to have. If you volunteer and/or assist someone, one day they may repay you for your kindness.
The entertainment industry is a hard business to get into, but it’s not impossible. Stay focused and committed. OOH RAH!
In the future, I will still go for stunt and acting roles, but I am also looking to start a family.
You can keep up with Leaphy on her Facebook page, and check out other bad ass veterans in back issues of Skillset Magazine at OutdoorGroupStore.com! If podcasts are more your style, we like to get on the mic and talk all things “alpha” on our weekly show, Skillset Live! Remember to stay motivated and go the way of the gun!