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People grew up hearing loved ones telling them the “sky’s the limit.” This pep talk is intended to inspire and motivate persons to believe they could be anything they want to be with dedication and hard work. Lt Col Rochelle Kimbrell literally proved the sky’s the limit when at the young age of 24 she became an F-16 Fighter Pilot of the United States Air Force.
Rochelle Ng A Qui was born on April 20, 1976 in Indiana, United States of America to Guyanese parents, Eve Blackman Ng A Qui and Dr. Norman Ng A Qui. Her mother is the manager of Hoyte Blackman Television (HBTV), Channel 9. According to Guyana’s law Rochelle would automatically be Guyanese following the process of acquisition. Raised by parents who Rochelle said placed a premium on education it is no wonder by Grade Four she knew what she wanted to be – i.e., a Fighter Pilot- and put in the hard work to achieve this. At age 14 she had her first flying lesson and there was no looking back or quitting.
A 2012 United States Air Force (USAF) Magazine article, writing about her outstanding achievements, quoted her saying: “(Education) was the thing that opened doors. If you got your education, you could do whatever you wanted to do. That was how our house was run.”
She recounted as a child there was no female fighter pilot, and she was urged by others to look at the possibility of her attaining her goal. But for Rochelle there was no “back-up plan” or “what if it doesn’t work out plan.” It was a fighter pilot or nothing else.
Achievements, Awards and Decorations
In 1998, the 22-year-old graduated from the Air Force Academy and in 1999 at 23 she earned her pilot wings. In August 2000, she graduated from her initial F-16 training as fighter pilot. She was just 24 years old. This achievement made her the first female fighter pilot and the first African American fighter pilot in the USAF. She succeeded in toppling two barriers (gender and race) not that she set out to but because of her childhood dream and determination to achieve. She made literal the expression: “the sky’s the limit.”
According to said magazine Rochelle said she is “in constant competition with [her]self.” That self-competing drive has earned her prestigious military awards and decorations such as Air Medal with one device, Meritorious Service Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with one device, Army Commendation Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, among others. Her portrait has a pride of place on the wall of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
Flying shoulder to shoulder in a traditional man’s world
The significance of Rochelle’s barriers-breaking achievements is weighty and phenomenal. Where others could only dream, fear to dream or were deterred, Rochelle proved in the world’s mightiest military she is second to none and equally capable of succeeding in a traditional man’s world.
According to USAF, a F-16 Fighting Falcon which Rochelle flew is “a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft, …highly manoeuvrable, and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.” This fighter plane “can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point.” This is the ‘mean machine’ Rochelle successfully piloted in combat and it could only be imagined the awe she commanded from both allies and enemies.
It cannot escape attention that the F-16 model she flew, the one-seater (F-16A) first flew in December 1976, eight months after she was born. Fate or were the stars (hers and the USAF) in alignment? Rochelle has flown combat sorties in Operation Northern Watch and was stationed in Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Georgia and Nevada in the U.S. After 21-years of service, she retired in June 2020 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel but continues to encourage others to reach for the sky.
Using her experience and self-driven disposition to inspire others
Rochelle has used values instilled by her Guyanese parents and her determination to inspire others. She exemplifies what U.S former first lady Michelle Obama often says: “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked … You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you.”
Rochelle told USAF magazine about the rewards she gets from speaking with children and inspiring them to dream big. According to her a lot of children aren’t told that they can achieve their dreams and don’t realise that a lot of barriers have been knocked down. She’s quoted saying: “I literally see the lights turn on in kids’ eyes when I talk to them when they realise that someone like me can go do something as cool as (being a fighter pilot).
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.” What an inspiration Rochelle remains and pride to her loved ones and extended Guyanese family- We, The People.