Coast Guard Becomes First Black Woman to Fly Seahawk Helicopter and Join Flight School

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 6, 2020

A Virginia Coast Guardswoman is celebrating a historic milestone in her military career.

After being promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander, Chanel Lee became the first African American female pilot in the Coast Guard to be sent to flight school and the first to fly an MH-60 Seahawk helicopter.

Lee, of Richmond, Virginia, is one of five African American female pilots in the Coast Guard nationwide. During her July 25 ranking ceremony, Lee claimed she felt “blessed and fortunate” to have her loved ones by her side.

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Lt. Cdr. Chanel Lee, pictured at an Air Medal award ceremony in Tuskegee, Alabama, on Feb. 21, 2019 (Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco/U.S. Coast Guard)

She credited “all the people that were there with me through those moments when I thought maybe my career might be over, or I might not be able to do all the things that I had aspired to do,” reported WTVR.

“So to be able to stand here on the other side of it and actually have each of those people here to share with me is just, it’s beyond a blessing,” she added. “I really can’t even put it into words.”

Lee’s socially distanced ceremony, attended by guests wearing face masks, took place in the backyard of her mother’s home.

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Adm. Charles Ray (far right) pictured with Lee and four of her colleagues on Feb. 21, 2019 (Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco/U.S. Coast Guard)

Just before the ceremony, Lee completed a tour in San Diego as the Guard’s assistant engineering division chief in efforts to manage Southern California wildfires. In a prior mission, she contributed to the relief efforts after the 2018 mudslides.

Thinking back to the time of her enlistment, Lee credited the U.S. Coast Guard for its open-minded attitude.

“When I joined in 2003, the Coast Guard was the only branch that looked past my distinctive identity and offered me every opportunity that it presented everyone else,” Lee stated in a post on Facebook. “The Coast Guard dared me to soar as we conquered the most honorable missions.”

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Lee and four of her colleagues standing on the historic Tuskegee’s Moton Field on Feb. 21, 2019 (Lt.Cmdr. Ryan P Kelley/U.S. Coast Guard)

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft claimed it was imperative for the organization to “continue to evolve a culture that provides all individuals the opportunity to prosper, advance in their careers, and contribute to Coast Guard missions.”

In terms of her future ambitions, the trailblazing pilot is reaching for the stars—in the pilot’s seat and also in the classroom, as she’s enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology and hopes to earn a Masters degree in Aeronautical Structural Mechanics and Materials.

Ahead on the radar, she could be literally headed for the stars. “Space would be cool,” she said, referring to a possible career next step.

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Lee and the aircrew pictured together at Air Station Clearwater in Florida on July 13, 2015 (Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashley J. Johnson/U.S. Coast Guard)

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