Message from the Editor: This article was updated July 22, 2020 to include the amazing accomplishments of Dr. Sheila Chamberlain who in 1985, became the U. S. Army’s first African American female combat intelligence pilot; and Bessie Coleman, who though not a military person, was the first woman of African-American and Native American descent to pilot an airplane.
Lieutenant J.G. Madeline Swegle completed the undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training Tuesday, July 7, earning her wings as a tactical Jet Pilot and paving the way for her to fly aircraft like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter or the EA-18G Growler.
Rear Admiral Paula Dunn, the Navy’s Vice Chief of Information, offered praise for Swegle on Twitter and encouraged her to “go forth and kick butt.”
Swegle, a 2017 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is currently assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron (VT) 21 at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas.
She will receive her wings at a ceremony scheduled July 31.
Swegle joins the ranks of other Black female trailblazers in military aviation including Lt. Cmdr. Brenda Robinson, call sign “Raven,” who made history in 1980 when she became the first Black female graduate from Aviation Officer Candidate School.
In 1981, Robinson became the first Black woman certified for C-1A carrier onboard delivery carrier landings.
Robinson broke another racial barrier when she became the first Black female flight instructor, evaluator, and VIP transport pilot.
In addition, she was the first Black woman in history to earn “Wings of Gold,”the designation of a U.S. Naval Aviator, and she was also the first Black woman to be inducted into the International Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Swegle and Robinson are not the only forerunners in military aviation. They share the company of African-American female military pilot, Capt. Vernice Armour, call sign “FlyGirl,” who, after earning her wings in 2001, not only became the first Black woman to become a pilot in the Marine Corps.
These female aviators, each a trailblazer in her own right, all follow the accomplishments of Dr. Sheila Chamberlain who in 1985, became the Army’s first African American-female combat intelligence pilot.
Among her many accomplishments and civilian and military honors, Dr. Chamberlin was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and The Tuskegee Airmen Blades Award. In addition, she was the first female pilot ever elected to the National Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. as its National Parliamentarian.
Before Swegle, Robinson, Armour and even Chamberlain, a Black woman named Bessie Coleman took to the skies.
Coleman earned her pilot’s license in France at the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in 1921, the same year Amelia Earhart began taking flying lessons. Coleman was the first woman of African-American and Native American descent to pilot a plane.
These Black women earned their wings despite historical and systemic racial and sexist biases in the U.S. military. Circumstances, however, are slowly beginning to change.
Late last month, the Navy announced the formation of “Task Force One Navy” to address the issues of racism, sexism and other destructive biases and their impact on naval readiness. It will be led by Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey.
“As a Navy – uniform and civilian, active and reserve – we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind. We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force,” said Gilday. “That is why we are standing up Task Force One Navy, which will work to identify and remove racial barriers and improve inclusion within our Navy.”
The task force will seek to promptly address the full spectrum of systemic racism work, advocate for the needs of underserved communities, and to dismantle barriers and equalize professional development frameworks and opportunities within the Navy.
“We are at a critical inflection point for our Nation and our Navy and I want to ensure that we are fully responding to this moment as we work to facilitate enduring change,” said Nowell. “We must use the momentum created by these events as a catalyst for positive change. We need to have a deeper inclusion and diversity conversation in our Navy and amongst our own teams.”
The task force will focus their efforts in recommending reforms in several key areas. These areas include a myriad of issues ranging from recruiting and barriers to service entry to military justice analysis of racial disparities.
“We must demand of each other that we treat everyone with dignity and respect. If you won’t do that, then our Navy is not the best place for you,” said Gilday. “We are one team, and we are one Navy.”
The Navy’s Chief of Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr. echoed Gilday’s comments. “We are at a critical inflection point for our Nation and our Navy and I want to ensure that we are fully responding to this moment as we work to facilitate enduring change,” said Nowell.
“We must use the momentum created by these events as a catalyst for positive change. We need to have a deeper inclusion and diversity conversation in our Navy and amongst our own teams.”
S. E. Williams is the Executive Editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.