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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Guard Soldier Breaks the Mold and Does it All

SPC Arshia Gill prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center during her unit’s annual training.

SPC Arshia Gill prepares a door for a breaching exercise on a demolitions range at the Yakima Training Center during her unit’s annual training. (Photo by SGT David Carnahan.)

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – Specialist (SPC) Arshia Gill is breaking the mold and has become one of the many new female Soldiers stepping into combat military occupational specialties (MOSs).

But, for SPC Gill, she’s become more than just a trailblazer – she’s an engineer, a student, and a Soldier all wrapped into one. SPC Gill is a 12B Combat Engineer with Alpha Company, 898 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team in the Washington Army National Guard.

“If a I had an opportunity to do this all over again, even though it’s very difficult managing it, I definitely would; it’s a cool experience,” says SPC Gill.

“She’s always the first one wanting to learn and go do something,” added Sergeant (SGT) Jason Longmire with Alpha Company, 898 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “We were doing urban breaching [training] yesterday and she was right there, right next to the door, maybe five or 10 feet away holding the blast blanket so that no one got hurt.”

SPC Gill’s company commander, Captain (CPT) Brandon Buehler, describes her as a warrior and a true combat engineer. Combat engineers are expected to be able to build structures, operate explosives, and do the appropriate mathematics to ensure that both are done correctly.

When she’s not at drill, SPC Gill is a full-time student at the University of Puget Sound. The two lifestyles are night and day. Her school’s trim and manicured campus is a world away from the hot and dusty field at the Yakima Training Center. Transitioning back and forth can be challenging.

“If I have a weekend off, I usually visit home and my family,” SPC Gill says. “That usually puts me back on my feet if I’m having a tough time.”

Family is a big motivator for her.

“Most of the men in my family have served in different armies around the world, and I am the first in my generation, and also the first female [Soldier] in my family.”

In January 2016, the Department of Defense opened all military occupational specialties to women. 

“I was a little scared after basic because drill sergeants try to freak you out about being one of the first women in a combat MOS that just opened up,” SPC Gill says. “[I heard] a lot about being able to carry your own weight, and I pride myself in being able to do that.”

SPC Gill was nervous about arriving in her first unit, but that concern went away when she got to know her new teammates.

“I honestly feel blessed to be in this unit,” she says. “I’m just really happy that I got placed with some of the men that are in this unit because they’re very respectful, and the transition was very easy. I didn’t feel like there were any bumps in the road or anything like that.”

So if you’re looking to join a team that has your back no matter what, consider joining the Army National Guard. You’ll serve part-time and close to home, which will allow you, like SPC Gill, to focus on other things, too, like going to college or working in a civilian career.

Besides flexibility, the Guard also offers fantastic education benefits and training in jobs that range from engineering to infantry to intelligence and more. See our job board to learn more, and contact your local recruiter for details.

From an original story by SPC Alec Dionne, 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in July.

 

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