The U.S. Coast Guard currently has more than 800 pilots. They perform crucial search and rescue missions, often in adverse weather situations.

For 215 years, not a single one of them was a Black woman. 

That was, until Jeanine Menze came along. In 2005, she graduated Navy flight school, becoming the first Black female aviator in service. 

Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, stationed at Air Station Barbers Point, Oahu, Hawaii in 2006. USCG photo by PA2 Jennifer Johnson.

Two years later, she met La’Shanda Holmes and introduced her to the world of flight. La’Shanda would then go on to earn her own wings, becoming the second.

Lashanda Holmes at Air Station Los Angeles. U.S, in 2010. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers.

Lieutenant Commander La’Shanda Holmes and Commander Jeanine Menze came to StoryCorps to remember that time, and reflect on the impact they’ve made in each other’s lives.

By 2014 there were five Black women pilots in the Coast Guard, nicknamed “The Fab Five”. Since then, that number has gone up, adding a sixth…with more waiting in the wings…

From left to right are Cmdr. Jeanine Menze, MH-65 helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. LaShanda Holmes, HC-144 fixed wing pilot Lt. Angel Hughes, MH-60 helicopter pilot Lt. Chanel Lee, HC-144 fixed wing pilot Lt. Ronaqua Russell. 2019. Photo by Lt.Cmdr. Ryan P Kelley.

Originally aired October 2, 2021 on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Top Photo: From left to right, Jeanine Menze and La’Shanda Holmes, at La’Shanda’s flight school graduation at NAS Whiting Field, Milton, FL, in 2010. Courtesy of La’Shanda Holmes.