Wings Over Alabama
Before a crowd of approximately 200 people including Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and AUSA Alabama State President Nicolas Britto, Alabama National Guardsman 1st Lieutenant Kayla Freeman was awarded by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, the 2019 Veteran of The Year Award. The award was presented by Governor Ivey during the annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army West/Central Alabama chapter. Among numerous
military dignitaries, civic and corporate leaders, Hillcrest High JROTC cadets were on hand to witness a milestone in Alabama military history as well as an accomplishment for STEM pursuits by Alabama youth.
When asked was she aware of the significance of her accomplishment she responded that she hadn't really seen her impact and value up until the hour before receiving the award itself. "I'm just an average girl from a small town that had big dreams. I had to work very hard, especially at math being an aerospace engineer". Lieutenant Freeman's accomplishment is one of many results stemming from a major campaign nationally to produce more women in the aviation field. Currently, the US Air Force has a recruiting commercial featuring all female aviators. According to Governor Ivey who has been a trailblazer in her own right, being the first female governor in the State of Alabama since Lurleen Wallce, “I am very proud of her she is a trailblazer in her own right,” Gov. Ivey said. “She is breaking down her barriers too and that’s good. A lot has been done over the years and there is still more to do and I am proud to see her being one of the trailblazers.”
Cadets of the Hillcrest JROTC Battalion were especially proud of Lt Freeman as she serves as an example of the many options that are available, especially in a field that up until recent years was very underrepresented by minority women. Alabama Adjutant General Major General Sheryl Gordon was on hand to support and congratulate Lt. Freeman. While presenting Lt. Freeman with her award, Governor Ivey spoke of how just fifty years ago, it was uncommon for women to be homeowners. Now, in 2020, "We have trailblazers who knocked down barriers, one by one. Because of these female leaders who prepared the way, there are now many female CEOs, politicians and business owners who are examples to generations of incoming women."
Responding to questions from local media outlets as to the road upon which she's traveled to become an aviator, Lt. Freeman spoke of how it was not her intentions to make history or be in the spotlight but merely satisfy a thirst for higher knowledge.
"Thinking back to when I was in high school I never would have imagined being where I am today.I was following my dreams and didn’t know this would cause this much attention I just wanted to work hard and wanted to be a pilot and an engineer.”
Lt Freeman's accomplishment will only further motivate persons from all walks of life to pursue excellence. Currently there are several African American women serving as aviators in National Guard units nationwide and this number will only increase over the next few years. What has to happen is the continued push for STEM programs and funding to open additional doors of opportunity.
Under the command of Colonel James Lackey and First Sergeant Walter Davis, the cadets of Hillcrest High School JROTC did a stellar job at helping to facilitate the program. Cadet Jacquelyn Samuel conducted the welcoming followed by the presentation of the Colors by the Color Guard. The National Anthem was sung by Cadet Alex Diggins and invocation given by Cadet Anaiah Lee. Cadet Sarah Falls assisted in the presentation of the awards to the women of the year 2019; LaTonya Jemison, Becky York, Dr. Khristina Spruill Motley, and Ellen Woodward Potts.