In October 2013, UNC graduate Lindsey Jefferies became the first Black female Black Hawk pilot in the N.C. National Guard.
Now, she performs important operations for the state, including medical evacuations and transportation of supplies. The path that she took to get there meant that she always had to believe in herself, even when others didn't.
Jefferies said when she was a junior at UNC, she was told if she wanted to fly for the North Carolina National Guard, she would need to complete a packet, attend a training and sit in front of the board.
During the first week of training, she went to receive a flight physical that was required in order to complete her packet. She was told there had been a mistake, and she would not be able to receive the required physical to ensure she was flight-qualified.
“I’m not going to be an aviator,” Jefferies said she thought at the time. “What do I do when I don’t get what I want?”
'An out-of-body experience'
Jefferies' interest in ROTC began when she was a young girl. She said when she was in middle school, her older sister was in the Marine Corps JROTC, and would drill her in the driveway of their home in Smithfield, North Carolina.
The family moved to Raleigh before Jefferies’ first year of high school, and she said her mom allowed them to choose which high school they would attend. They visited multiple schools around the city, but a conversation with her mother made Broughton High School the obvious choice.
"Then we got to Broughton High school and my mom was like ‘Well, you know this is where I went,’” Jefferies said.
Following in her sister’s footsteps, Jefferies joined the Air Force JROTC at Broughton. During her time in the JROTC, Jefferies was able to experience helping fly a small fixed-wing plane. She said this was the first time that she had ever been in a plane, let alone help a pilot fly one.
“I’m all excited. ‘Look at me, I’m flying this plane,’” Jefferies said. “It was like an out-of-body experience.”
Jefferies joined the National Guard in the 11th grade, and it was then that she was able to have her first ride in a Black Hawk helicopter. She said the pilot took a small group of pre-basic training recruits up in the Black Hawk.
From that point on, aviation was her focus.
Reaching her goal
After Jefferies was accepted to UNC, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology, she had to attend her advanced individual training as an aviation operations specialist. The training dates ran into the fall semester at the University, so Jefferies decided to take a one-year deferment, which she said led to a confrontation that would motivate her throughout her life.
She was working at the fast-food restaurant Zaxby’s during her gap year when one day she got a call from a coworker. The coworker told her that their general manager said working at Zaxby's was all Jefferies was ever going to do.
“Well, I’m going to put my two-week notice in, because I’m not going to be able to continue to work here,” Jefferies said she told him. The next thing she did was go to her recruiter and get an active-duty special work position.
Jefferies kept this faith in herself as she continued to succeed at UNC, at graduate school at UNC-Greensboro and in the National Guard.
“She is all about growth and getting better,” Connie Jones, Jefferies' mentor at UNCG, said. “Everything that she has earned, she has worked for.”
Jefferies said she was approached by a commander during the last week of her training to attend aviation school who asked her why she had not done the flight physical yet. Jefferies said the commander told her to get it done the next day, so that she would qualify for flight school.
“I bet this is a test to see I was going to hold true to my faith or freak out, and just think that it's not going to happen,” Jefferies said.
On the last day of Jefferies' senior year at UNC, she learned she would begin attending flight school that August. When she was later asked which helicopter she would like to fly, the Apache or the Black Hawk, she said she would fly whatever was available.
“He was like, ‘Well, thank you for the politically correct answer, but tell me what you actually want to fly,’” Jefferies said.
She chose the Black Hawk.
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