By SPC Tackora Hand
| Indiana National Guard Headquarters | March 8, 2019
Female flies into history books (Photo by Baty, Ramon)
Captain makes history as first African American female aviator in the Indiana National Guard.
By Maj. Catalina Carrasco Indiana National Guard Public Affairs
To obtain a doctorate and two master’s degrees by the age of 32 is quite an accomplishment by any measurement, but Capt. Erin A. Stokes’ latest achievement cemented her place in history by becoming the first African American female Aviator in the Indiana National Guard after 15 months of intense flight school training at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Becoming the first was not something that was in Stokes’ mind while getting through school.
“I didn’t think about it, I was just trying to get through flight school,” she said, adding that when she found out she was in disbelief. “You wouldn’t think in 2019 that you would be the first to do anything.”
Despite the historical significance, Stokes said she had mixed feelings about this accomplishment.
“Because you are the first, now you have opened doors for others to come in and say if you could do it, I can do it,” she said. “There’s a bull eye on your back that says you better not fail.” Adding that while she thinks that there is pressure, it’s definitely an honor.
Getting through flight school was challenging for the married mother of two boys, aged two and four, not only because of the curriculum, but also because she was separated from her family. “Being away from my kids was the biggest challenge,” said Stokes. “Being away from my husband and having that emotional support and that backbone was hard.”
Outside of the emotional stress of being away from the family there were challenges with the course as well.
“Flight school was cut throat, oh my God the studying,” said Stokes. “You think that you’re intelligent before you go to flight school but they tell you right away, is information overload is up to you to figure out how to decipher the information. They give you a lot right at front.”
She was able to get through it all, “through prayer, leaning on my mentors, and my husband, my best friend and my dad.”
Having a strong support system was essential to Stokes.
“I had some amazing mentors that have kept me grounded while I’m out here. But I think that’s something that you need to have, a mentor, someone to coach you along the way because flight school is not easy. Life is not easy,” she said.
Those mentors include her fellow Hoosier aviators who make up a remarkable corps in the Indiana National Guard.
“With over 400 Hoosier aviation soldiers either deployed overseas, guarding our border, or preparing to mobilize this year, Indiana Army National Guard aviation continues to stand at the forefront of readiness and defending the nation,” said Indiana National Guard Col. Matthew Handy, state Army aviation officer “As one of the premier aviation organizations in the nation, Indiana Army National Guard aviation looks forward to ensuring Capt. Stokes and her peers returning from flight school are well trained, well equipped and well lead to confidently meet new challenges.”
Stokes joined the Indiana National Guard in 2008, enlisting as a nuclear, chemical and biological specialist.
“I really love the hierarchy, the organization of the military,” said Stokes. “I had many different options in the civilian sector but I didn’t have a passion for any of the jobs that I was being offered. I wanted to be able to get up and say I love what I do.”
In 2010, she obtained her commission from federal officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia and branched as a military police officer. She spend some time serving on active duty with different positions in the National Guard Bureau and Fort Hood, Texas and returned to Indiana in 2015 to become the commander of the 38th Military Police Company in Danville.
However becoming an aviator and flying in a medevac unit was always in the back of her mind. “I really wanted to participate in the medical aspect of that, and go in, get guys out and not to be the hero, but just to save lives,” said Stokes. “That’s just a passion that I always had.”
Stokes, a Chicago native, holds a baccalaureate in criminology, criminal justice and English. She earned a Master of Arts in law enforcement and justice administration with a minor in sociology, an MBA with a specialization in criminal justice and a Ph.D. in business administration with a specialization in criminal justice.
“I never thought I could achieve any of it, I absolutely love education and learning,” she said
Stokes has some advice for anyone going through challenges.
“Don’t quit, if it seems unbearable or unreachable don’t quit. If you see something you have a passion for go after it no matter what,” she said.