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First African American Female Fighter Pilot Retired

In June 2020, Lt Col Rochelle Kimbrell retired from the United States Air Force after twenty-two years of service. Lt Col Kimbrell is the first Black American female fighter pilot in the USAF, serving as a trailblazer for generations to come.

Lt Col Kimbrell received her commission in 1998 after graduating from the United States Air Force Academy, later she attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB, TX and was awarded her pilot wings in August 1999. She then completed Introduction to Fighter Fundamental training at Randolph AFB, TX in November 1999. In August 2000, she graduated from her initial F-16 training at Luke AFB, AZ becoming the first Black American female fighter pilot in the USAF.

Over the years, Kimbrell finds time to speak to children about dreaming big. She said she finds that a lot of children aren’t told that they can achieve their dreams and don’t realize that a lot of barriers have been knocked down.

"I literally see the lights turn on in kids' eyes when I talk to them when they realize that someone like me can go do something as cool as (being a fighter pilot)," Kimbrell said. "It's really awesome to be able to go out and talk to them and have them light up and say, 'I've heard people say that you can do whatever you want, but now I can put a face to the story and I can see that it can be done, which means I can go out and do whatever I want to do.' That is what I focus on and what I think is really important."

She joined the Civil Air Patrol, worked at air shows, had her first flying lesson at 14, and earned her private pilot’s license. Eventually, she was accepted into the Air Force Academy. She did all of this despite people telling her as a child that there were no female fighter pilots, people asking her about all the what-ifs that would derail her plans.

“I was in constant competition with myself, trying to do better, to make the grade,” the F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot said. “There were times when I didn’t think that I was going to make it through. It was in those times I learned to be humble and realize there is a point in everyone’s struggle — no matter how strong they are — when they need help, and the key is to seek it out before it is too late.”

In July 2004, she graduated from the Joint Fire Control Course and was assigned to the 15th Air Support Operations Squadron. Later she deployed as the 2nd Brigade Air Liaison Officer in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Nothing’s easy,” she added. “Expect road blocks, expect that there are going to be people out there who don’t want you to succeed, expect people are going to tell you no. But the desire that comes from within — if it’s something that you really want — will carry you through.”

We thank you for your service and the inspiration you give to the youth!