by Senior Airman Renee Crugnale, 165th Airlift Wing
In February, 1st Lt. Thessa Washington became the first African-American woman C-130H pilot at the 165th Airlift Wing, nearly 17 years after the wing welcomed its first African-American pilot.
This honor coincides with the Wing’s celebration of Black History Month, highlighting African-American contributions and achievements throughout the military.
Acting on the mentorship of friends and family, Washington enlisted in the Wing in October 2009 as an Airman 1st Class sheet metal maintainer. After graduating basic training, she attended technical school in Pensacola, Florida and returned to Savannah to continue her training until commissioning in November 2017.
“It feels surreal… I never imagined being the first of anything,” Washington said. “There’s so many other people who’ve paved the way and it’s an honor to have my name mentioned among retired Lt. Col. Theresa Claiborne, who was the first in the Air Force, and Capt. Andrea Lewis, who was the first black female pilot in the state Guard.”
Though the training has been tough, Washington said it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences she’s had the honor to take part in since beginning her Guard career.
“It’s definitely not the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “The distinction of being the first and the only is incredibly humbling.”
Pilots undergo rigorous training on survival techniques and are required to meet and maintain height and weight standards. The road to earning pilot wings typically lasts two years and she’ll have to complete six months of seasoning training at the Wing to become fully qualified.
“I plan to be in the Guard until I’m old and have cataracts” she said. “It’s been the best gig I’ve ever had.”
Washington resides in Savannah, Georgia.