Overcoming adversity to make Coast Guard history

LOS ANGELES - Lt. j.g. Lashanda Holmes stands in front of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Los Angeles.  Holmes, from Fayetteville, N.C., is the first female African-American helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard.  "It never crossed my mind to go aviation," said Holmes, "but after meeting Lt. Jeanine Menze (the first female African-American Coast Guard pilot) I knew I had to be a part of the aviation community."  U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

Lt. j.g. Lashanda Holmes the first female African-American helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard. . Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers

LOS ANGELES – Inspiration can found in many forms and in many places. When it is found, it can propel a person to heights they never imagined. And for one history-making Coast Guard helicopter pilot, inspiration struck when her life traveled down an unexpected path. Today, her success serves to inspire others.

“I’m proud of it, it’s a blessing and I hope I can continue to inspire people,” said Lt. j.g. LaShanda Holmes, the first female African-American helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard and currently serving at Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles.

While being the first of anything can serve as an inspiration to others, simply crediting Holmes for earning her wings doesn’t do her justice. To learn possibly the most inspirational part of her story, you must look into her past.

“I didn’t have the best background,” explained Holmes. “I came through foster care and I’ve had my share of awful days and bumps in the road, but sometimes it takes those things to build character.”

Holmes entered foster care in Fayetteville, N.C., at a very young age after her mother took her own life, beginning what Holmes refers to as her “testimony”.

“I don’t remember my mom,” she continued. “I have pictures and I’ve heard stories but I don’t think there are any mistakes. Things happen for a reason.”

Holmes sometimes wondered what life had to offer and doubted what she was capable of, but she clung to her religious faith during these difficult times in an effort to persevere.

“I’d have days where I’d sit in my room all day and cry and feel sorry for myself, but then I’d have days where I’d say, alright, this is sickening. You can’t be this down in the dumps and feeling sorry for yourself,” described Holmes.

It was in these moments of clarity that a flickering flame began to grow into the fire that would drive her down a path to success. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from her high school and earned a partial community service scholarship from The Bonner Scholar Program to attend Spelman College, a historically Black college for women in Atlanta.

“People that told me I can’t do things, or I would never accomplish something … those are the people that light a fire inside of me. No, you aren’t in my life when you should’ve been, but its fine because I have what it takes,” said Holmes. “You got to fire yourself up.”

Holmes, a self-described “dreamer”, doesn’t let the attention she is gaining nationally enter her thoughts very often. Although she’s a junior pilot and a Coast Guard officer, there is still a lot of learning to be done.

She didn’t grow up dreaming of flying, but the idea of being in a position to inspire not only young African-American girls, but everyone, is something she doesn’t take lightly.

“That’s the significant part for me,” Holmes said. “Other than that, I don’t dwell on it a lot.’

And for those who are struggling and can relate to her story on some level, she has a message.

“I will be their role model,” Holmes stated. “Just don’t stop. You have to have tunnel vision when it comes to your success and your life. Have mentors. That’s what helped me. Just surround yourself with successful people, and you will become so too.”

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