Women in Aviation International (WAI) has announced Lt. Gen. Stayce D. Harris, the highest-ranking African American woman military pilot in all the United States armed forces, will be inducted into its International Pioneer Hall of Fame in March.
President Barack Obama nominated Harris to the position of lieutenant general on June 7. The Senate then confirmed the nomination. At her promotion ceremony on Aug. 26 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Harris received a third star and became the first female African American to ever achieve the rank of lieutenant general for the Air Force.
Former Women Air Force Service Pilot Pauline Cutler-White and retired Col. Charles McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, helped pin on the new rank. Harris said the renowned group of African American military pilots who fought in World War II inspired her.
“Two months before I went to pilot training, I was able to meet the Tuskegee Airmen, and so when you talk about the inspiration of your life, for me, it has been the Tuskegee Airmen,” Harris said in an interview with The Undefeated.
She also said the Air Force embraces diversity:
“[Because] so many people of color and females had become general officers, I knew that the Air Force was more embracing of diversity and advancement for those that work hard to do the job.”
Harris is also the first reservist to fill the position of the assistant vice chief of staff and director of the air staff. In addition, she serves as deputy chairman of the Air Force Council and is the Air Force accreditation official for the international Corps of Air Attachés.
Through the University of Southern California’s (USC) ROTC program, Harris received a commission in the Air Force. She graduated from USC in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering and in 1987 received a master’s degree in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Harris served on active duty until joining the Air Force Reserve in 1991. She has commanded an airlift squadron, an expeditionary operations group, an air refueling wing and a numbered air force.
A command pilot, Harris has logged more than 2,500 hours in military aircraft including the C-130H, KC-135R, C-141B/C, T-38 and T-37.
Prior to her current position, she served as the commander of the 22nd Air Force at Dobbins ARB, Georgia.
“I grew up as a military brat”
The lieutenant general, who was born in Los Angeles, followed in the footsteps of her father.
“My father was career enlisted in the Air Force, so I grew up as a military brat,” she said in an interview with USC. “Basically, I’ve been serving ever since I was born. In my mind, all I wanted to do is grow up to be just like him.”
Harris said every two years her family would move to “another exotic location,” and she enjoyed the ability to travel the world.
Entering high school and taking Junior ROTC confirmed for Harris that she had “the propensity to serve and wanted to be an airman.”
She told USC the “coolest” aircraft she’s ever flown is the Northrop T-38 Talon. (Northrop Grumman is No. 31 on the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.)
“Part of completing training is to fly solo flights and so I remember soloing the T-38 on my birthday in 1984,” Harris said. “Just the greatest thrill of all!”
The 2017 Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame inductees also include the first class of women naval aviators: Judith Neuffer, Barbara Allen, Jane Skiles, Ana Marie Scott, Joellen Drag and Rosemary Merims, as well as Elizabeth “Betty” Everts Greene (deceased), a trailblazer in humanitarian and missionary flying.
The 28th annual conference will take place March 2-4, 2017, at Disney’s Coronado Spring Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (The Walt Disney Company is No. 38 on the DiversityInc Top 50 list.)