Kayla Freeman wasn’t looking to make history when she decided to pursue a career with the Alabama National Guard, but that’s exactly what she did.
Freeman’s graduation on Saturday from Tuskegee University where she was enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, made her the first African-American female in Alabama’s National Guard history to earn her wings and become a pilot.
“I just wanted to do the best that I could do and hopefully inspire a few people along the way,” she told the U.S. Army. “You can’t let mistakes and setbacks keep you down. Learn from them and continue moving forward. Most importantly keep God first and He will direct your path.”
Having graduated, Freeman’s is currently employed as an aerospace engineer at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. as her civilian job, but is now at Fort Hood, Texas; preparing to deploy to the Middle East as a platoon leader in the Alabama National Guard’s 1-169th Aviation Battalion, according to the Associated Press.
She was pinned on Saturday by Col. Christine “Nickey” Knighton, a Georgia native and fellow history maker. Knighton, who made history on several different fronts was the first woman to command a tactical combat arms battalion in the U.S. Army, the first woman from Georgia to complete flight training at Fort Rucker, and the second African-American woman in U.S. military history to earn her wings at Fort Rucker.
“Col. Knighton has been an inspiration to me since college” Freeman told the U.S. Army. “I felt that it was only right to have her pin me.”
Another female history maker — Alabama’s Major General Sheryl Gordon commended Freeman for her achievements.
“We take the ideals of equal opportunity very seriously,” Gordon told Tuskegee University, “and we’re extremely proud of 2nd Lt. 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,” Gordon continued.