1st Black woman Coast Guard pilot helped her see what was possible Jeanine Menze was discouraged from pursuing her dream to fly planes when she didn't see any women of color in the field. Then she met La'Shanda Holmes. "When I met you, I saw myself," Menze told her.

How the Coast Guard's 1st Black woman pilot helped give the next one her wings

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Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative - today, a conversation between the first Black female pilot in the United States Coast Guard and the second. Commander Jeanine Menze became a pilot in the Coast Guard in 2005. She felt out of place until Lieutenant Commander La'Shanda Holmes came along.

LA'SHANDA HOLMES: What did that mean to be the first?

JEANINE MENZE: It was so long that I'd been in the Coast Guard already being the only Black female. I wanted a partner. I wanted somebody else there. So when I met you, I saw myself.

HOLMES: You were so welcoming. I just was hanging on your every word. And I thought, she looks like me. She's got lips like me. And she's flying the biggest aircraft we have in the Coast Guard (laughter).

MENZE: I'm curious what you remember about when I took you flying for the first time.

HOLMES: I was a little scared because when you look in a cockpit, all the switches and the buttons and levers - it's overwhelming.

MENZE: I remember your face looked like sheer terror (laughter). Once you were at the controls for a little bit, you start to relax. And you had the biggest smile on your face. It was just beautiful for me to see. So fast-forward two years, and you are on stage about to graduate from flight school. I could not contain my emotion.

HOLMES: We walk up, and we were just looking at each other holding hands.

MENZE: I wanted to make some sort of gesture to say that we're all going to be there for each other, all of the other Black and brown girls that were going to be coming up behind us. And immediately I thought the best way to do that was you were going to have my wings.

HOLMES: And as you are putting the wings on my chest, I felt like I was Wonder Woman. I was so proud. I was proud to be a woman. I was proud to be Black. I was proud to know you.

MENZE: I wanted you to get there as much as you wanted to get there because I wanted you with me.

HOLMES: You've changed my mind about what's possible. So I felt I owed it to you and I owed it to myself.


SIMON: Coast Guard pilots La'Shanda Holmes and Jeanine Menze. Since La'Shanda's graduation from flight school, the number of Black female pilots in the Coast Guard has grown to six, with more waiting - well, if you please - waiting in the wings.


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