Alabama Army National Guard Welcomes First Black Female Pilot

 

2LT Kayla Freeman at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., June 21, 2018, after her graduation from aviation school. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

2LT Kayla Freeman at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., June 21, 2018, after her graduation from aviation school. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)


FORT RUCKER, Ala. – When Second Lieutenant (2LT) Kayla Freeman wore her wings for the first time on the stage of Fort Rucker’s Army Aviation school, she didn’t consider how historically impactful the moment was.

2LT Freeman, whose June 21 graduation made her the first black female pilot in the Alabama Army National Guard, says she “didn’t think about making history when I started this journey. I just wanted to do the best that I could do and hopefully inspire a few people along the way.”

That’s a goal she has also accomplished, evidenced by 2LT Freeman being inundated with congratulations, well-wishes, and messages of appreciation in the few weeks after her achievement.

2LT Freeman says she was honored to have her wings pinned by a longtime hero and fellow history-maker, retired Colonel (COL) Christine “Nickey” Knighton, who was the second black woman in the Department of Defense to earn her aviator wings, the first from Georgia, and the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion.

“COL Knighton has been an inspiration to me since college,” 2LT Freeman says. “I felt that it was only right to have her pin me.”

Retired COL Christine Knighton pins aviator wings on 2LT Kayla Freeman at Freeman’s graduation from the Army Aviation school, June 21, 2018, at Fort Rucker, Ala. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

Retired COL Christine Knighton pins aviator wings on 2LT Kayla Freeman at Freeman’s graduation from the Army Aviation school, June 21, 2018, at Fort Rucker, Ala. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

2LT Freeman also lists COL Knighton as one of her main role models, along with her own grandfather, and the pioneering female Tuskegee Airmen like Mildred Carter.

Like COL Knighton before her, 2LT Freeman’s inspirations led her to attend Tuskegee University and enroll in the historic institute’s ROTC program. She says she knew since she was a child that she wanted to fly, and says it was discipline, perseverance, and faith that helped her achieve that goal.

“You can’t let mistakes and setbacks keep you down,” she says. “Learn from them and continue moving forward. Most importantly, keep God first, and He will direct your path.”

Major General (MG) Sheryl Gordon applauded 2LT Freeman’s historic accomplishment. MG Gordon is the first female general officer in the Alabama National Guard, and is now the first female to serve as its adjutant general.

“We take the ideals of equal opportunity very seriously,” MG Gordon says, “and we’re extremely proud of 2LT Freeman’s achievements. She is further proof that we don’t see race or gender in the Alabama Guard – we see Soldiers and Airmen and their potential. She has worked very hard to earn those wings, and that’s a great example for all of us.”

Currently at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to the Middle East as a platoon leader in the Alabama Army National Guard’s 1-169th Aviation Battalion, 2LT Freeman’s mind is on the mission. After that, she says, her plans are simple: keep going.

“I just plan to continue to develop my skills as an officer and aviator, as well as mentoring others,” she says.

In her civilian career, 2LT Freeman is an aerospace engineer at U.S. Army Aviation Development Test Activity at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

If you’re interested in defending the skies and controlling some of the most advanced aircraft in the world, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding career in aviation.

The Guard offers training in more than 150 careers, all of which can be researched on our job board by State, category, or keyword. Learn more about how you can serve part-time in the National Guard and take advantage of its benefits like money for college by contacting your local recruiter.

From an original article by SPC Cody Muzio and SFC Myra Bush, which appeared in the news section of Army.mil in July.

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Guard’s Flexibility Gives Soldier Ability to Jump from One Adventure to the Next

SPC Kristopher Nordby rappels into a University of Rhode Island basketball game for Military Appreciation Night.

SPC Kristopher Nordby rappels into a University of Rhode Island basketball game for Military Appreciation Night.

One of the things that sets the Army National Guard apart from other branches of the military is that Soldiers serve on a part-time basis.

For Specialist (SPC) Kristopher Nordby of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, this level of flexibility is giving the 22-year-old the opportunity to try different things, travel overseas, and go to as many Army schools as he can.

SPC Nordby joined the Guard five years ago as a junior in high school under the Guard’s split training option. Inspired partly by an older brother’s adventures as an Infantryman for the Guard, he enlisted with the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a 12B Combat Engineer. That was until he found out his home state of Rhode Island had an Airborne Infantry Unit, one of only a handful that exists within the Guard.

“Jumping out of planes and shooting the different weapons that the military has available kind of sparked my interest a little more,” he says of his choice to switch military occupational specialties (MOS) to 11B Infantryman and do an interstate transfer to Rhode Island, a move he believes might not have been as easy had he joined an active duty branch of the military.

While the regular infantry is on foot with rucksacks or using ground vehicles to arrive at a training ground or the battlefield, the airborne unit parachutes to their destinations from Black Hawk or Chinook helicopters, or C-130 planes, says SPC Nordby.

SPC Kristopher Nordby

SPC Kristopher Nordby

“We can just jump in,” he says.

One of the things that drew SPC Nordby to the Army National Guard was the number of military schools he’d be able to attend without having to enlist for full-time, active duty Army service.

“Any schools they want to send me to, I’m willing to go to because that’s what I’m into.”

So far, he’s been to six military courses in his career. The most rewarding for him was the three different trainings at Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vt.

“I really didn’t know I was into rock climbing or mountaineering until I went to those schools.”

The mountains left him wanting more, so he’s considering becoming a certified mountain guide as a civilian career and pay for it by using the Guard’s education benefits.

With deployments having slowed down, especially for infantry units, SPC Nordby is taking advantage of opportunities to better himself as a Soldier until a call to serve his country comes.

“In the meantime, I’ll just go to all of these schools and learn as much as I can military-wise. Hopefully, it will help me out once I am able to deploy.”

Another option SPC Nordby is considering later in his career is trying out for one of the Special Forces units that Rhode Island also has within the state.

But for now, he’s got a full-time Guard job on a mobile event team that sets up recruiting booths and activities at high schools and events in Rhode Island, which is also flexible enough to allow him to attend military schools and train overseas.

Just recently, his unit has been attached to the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vincenza, Italy, which has allowed him to travel to the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Romania for trainings and parachute competitions.

“I’ve been able to travel all over the place, and it’s been amazing.”

Another thing he likes about his job is the camaraderie he’s found in the Guard.

“The friendships that you build within the unit, they’re incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I can rely on anybody in my unit to help me if I ever needed it.”

So, if you’re looking for a part-time job where you can build long-lasting bonds and go on adventures, consider joining the Army National Guard.

Even if you’re not sure what career you want to jump into, the Guard offers more than 150 different jobs ranging from infantry to engineering to field artillery, and much more. You can explore all of these careers on our job board, or contact your local recruiter, who can help you find a good fit.

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How I Got My College Degree for Free

The Army National Guard Paid for It

Between the Army National Guard’s Federal tuition assistance, State tuition assistance, and GI Bill, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Ryan West earned his bachelor’s degree for free.

He estimates that between the special military rates offered by the schools he attended and the Guard’s education benefits, he has saved $30,000 to $40,000 in tuition and fees.

Without the Guard picking up the tab, SFC West’s other options to pay for school were using his GI Bill from his previous active duty service in the Army or student loans.

SFC Ryan West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

SFC Ryan West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

“I was raised in a single-parent home, there just wasn’t money for college,” he explains.

SFC West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard, has had a few stops and starts on his way to earning that degree. He had started college before joining the Army in 1998, but, “It didn’t work out for me. The money wasn’t there, plus I wasn’t that disciplined.”

So, he joined the military, something he had wanted to do since he was a child.

“I’m from a small town, Hopkins, South Carolina, so I wanted to get out and see the world, see new places, and meet new people,” says SFC West. “And, of course, defend my country. There’s nothing like it. You get a great reward from serving.”

After leaving active duty in 2002, SFC West wanted to continue his service, so he joined the Guard because he liked the idea of serving part-time, especially so he could go back to school.

But then he deployed to Iraq, which marked a complete turnaround in how he looked at his career.

“Prior to that, I was just a traditional Guardsman, just going through the motions, coming to drill. I didn’t really have aspirations of going higher in the ranks or being better than what I was.”

Experiencing what he did while deployed in Iraq as a 68W Healthcare Specialist (combat medic) – the inhumanity of war and even meeting new people from different places, made him realize he could reach higher.

It was after coming home that SFC West realized all of the Guard benefits he could use to complete his degree.

“You get funds from three different sources, which is great,” SFC West says. “You don’t get that in the Reserves, and you don’t get that in the regular Army.”

The Guard offers Federal tuition assistance. Plus, each State or Territory offers State tuition assistance, but note that each State or Territory has its own rules and policies. Finally, the GI Bill can pick up the tab for books, fees, or really anything. This money is a monthly expense allowance paid directly to the student, not the school.

 

SFC West and his family at his college graduation.

Armed with all of these financial resources and a renewed sense of purpose, SFC West re-started his studies at Limestone College in South Carolina, but then decided to take a full-time job with the Guard. As 2014 came into view, he decided to go back to school “to finish this thing before I retire,” finally earning his bachelor’s in organizational leadership from the University of South Carolina.

And, he might not be done using up all those education benefits. He still has some of his post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to transfer to his children, and he can still use the Guard’s tuition assistance to earn a master’s degree he’s thinking about getting.

His advice for anyone joining the Guard is: “Let the Guard get the most out of you, and you get the most out of the Guard.”

And that means taking advantage of all the opportunities it offers, including making the most of the education benefits.

“That paycheck means nothing if you stay five or six years and you don’t have a degree – a free degree,” he says.

So if you’re looking for a way to pay for college, or even vocational school, the Guard offers those benefits and more, like training in careers ranging from medicine and engineering to field artillery and logistics. You can explore all of the Guard’s career fields on our job board.

And, for personalized advice, including specifics on your State’s education benefits because the information varies from State to State, contact your local recruiter.

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