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Spotlight: Aviation Phenom La’Shanda Holmes

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Wings of a Warrior: A Black Aviator Soars into History

Life could have tethered La’Shanda Holmes, firmly grounding her dreams in harsh realities. Instead, the young woman who lost her mother to suicide at age two soared far above childhood hardships.

 The North Carolina native is the first African-American woman to become a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard. Her years of academic and professional perseverance culminated with an historic walk across the stage at Naval Air Station Whiting Field. The Coast Guard’s first black female aviator, Lt. Jeanine Menze, pinned the wings on Holmes at the April 9 ceremony.

 “It was a really emotional experience. Both of our eyes were watering and she asked me ‘Are you ready for this?’ I can’t think of a more awesome moment in my life,” Holmes said in a story posted on the Coast Guard Compass blog.

The young pilot had a lot to cry about growing up in the south. Before she was 17, the relationship with her adoptive mother was severed. Lt. j.g. Holmes says the abuse that eventually put she and her younger brother in separate foster homes, made her more determined to overcome early obstacles.

 “I was used to people telling me what I couldn’t do. We moved a lot, and I think it fueled my ambition to live better and work harder. It just gave me more motivation to succeed,” she said during an interview following the wings ceremony. The guidance and support Holmes needed finally came from Linda and Edward Brown, the foster parents she moved in with at age 17. She left home for Spelman College as a magna cum laude graduate.

 While in college, her entrance into Officer Candidate School put Holmes on a Coast Guard cutter. The operations officer encouraged her to look at aviation and her interest in becoming a pilot took off.  Lt. Menze’s husband, George, took Holmes up in an SH-60 helicopter for the first time. She knew she had found her calling. Her April description of that flight explains what motivated the aviator to conquer the rigors of the Coast Guard’s training program.

 “We did hovering and flying low over the water. I was like a little kid. It was like nothing I had ever done or seen before. It was awesome,” she said. “Everyone in the aviation community was so close. There was a real sense of camaraderie that I wanted to be a part of.” Now, Lt. Holmes flies into the skies with fellow helicopter pilots serving their country at Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles.


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