The Georgia Air National Guard is about to deploy its first black female pilot, Guard officials announced this week.
Soon, she’ll also be the first to deploy, said 2nd. Lt. Dustin Cole, a Guard spokesman, in a statement provided to Air Force Times.
Joint STARS use side-looking radar to locate and track moving objects behind enemy lines.
It is the Air Force’s only operational airborne platform that can maintain real-time surveillance over a corps-sized area of the battlefield, according to the service. And the 116th Air Control Wing, Lewis’ unit, is the only one that operates the E-8C and the Joint STARS mission.
Cole said he wasn’t able to release where Lewis’ deployment is taking her, due to operational security concerns.
Although her ascent is a first for the Georgia ANG, Lewis comes from a family of aviators. Her father was a 14-year veteran pilot in the Marine Corps, before continuing to fly for American Airlines for another 22 years.
Her mother is a career flight attendant with Delta Airlines based out of Atlanta.
“You could say that aviation and serving others is in my DNA,” Lewis said in a statement. “It is something I always knew I wanted to be a part of.”
Lewis originally joined the Air Force as a reservist in January 2010. She served as an Air Force flight attendant until her father died, at which point she decided to make the leap to the cockpit.
“After my father passed away, I knew it was time for me to take the steps needed to become a pilot and realize my dreams,” Lewis said. “I know it would have made my father proud.”
She began the process of applying for a Georgia ANG pilot slot and was accepted into the 116th Air Control Wing in 2014.
“When hiring Lt. Lewis, I saw her tenacity and a drive to accomplish her goal,” Col. Ato Crumbly, commander of the 116th Air Control Wing, said. “She has already made a tremendous impact in our unit and there is no question she will continue to be successful.”
Lewis attended Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, in 2015, before beginning Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
She finished pilot training in April 2017, officially becoming the first black female pilot in the Georgia ANG.
“It is my dream job, one I hoped for and set my sights to accomplish,” said Lewis. “When I got my wings I couldn’t believe it finally was happening."
"I said to my mom, ‘I finally made it!’” she added.
It’s Lewis’ intention to use her position as a platform to motivate children in their own pursuits of success.
“I want to tell people to always keep all options on the table regardless of how unobtainable they may seem,” said Lewis. “Never ever let fear or doubt get in the way of accomplishing your mission.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.