HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A historical moment on the stage of Fort Rucker’s Army Aviation school — 2nd Lt. Kayla Freeman wore her wings for the first time. But this was different than any other graduation, Freeman stood as the first black female pilot in the Alabama National Guard.
On June 21, she walked across the stage, but didn’t consider how historically impactful the moment was. Freeman said she “didn’t think about making history when I started this journey. I just wanted to do the best that I could do and hopefully inspire a few people along the way.”
Freeman said that she was honored to have her wings pinned by a longtime hero and fellow history-maker, retired Col. Christine “Nickey” Knighton.
“Col. Knighton has been an inspiration to me since college,” Freeman said. “I felt that it was only right to have her pin me.” Freeman lists Knighton as one of her main role models. Knighton was the second black woman in the Department of Defense to earn her aviator wings, the first from Georgia, and also the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion.
In her “civilian career,” Freeman is an aerospace engineer at United States Army Aviation Development Test Activity at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
Currently at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to the Middle East as a platoon leader in the Alabama National Guard’s 1-169th Aviation Battalion, Freeman’s staying focused. After that, she said, her plans are simple: keep going. “I just plan to continue to develop my skills as an officer and aviator, as well as mentoring others.”