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.”
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.