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CMSgt Lawanda Jackson makes VaANG history as the first Black woman to achieve the rank

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kellyann Elish,
  • 192nd Wing

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- The Virginia Air National Guard has had its share of women trailblazers. Betty J. McDaniel, first woman to enlist. Rebecca A. Sisson and Mary Rebkovich, first female officers. And, Toni M. Lord, is the first woman to serve as Air Component Commander for the Virginia National Guard. These are just some of the women who have had a lasting effect on the VaANG and paved the way for future generations.

Now, Chief Master Sgt. Lawanda Jackson, 192nd Support Squadron Mobility Flight chief, can be added to the list as the first Black woman to achieve the VaANG’s highest attainable enlisted rank.

The 192nd Wing celebrated Jackson’s achievement and marked the historic occasion during a promotion ceremony on July 10, 2021, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

“It’s women like these who decide to swim against the current and break the glass ceilings that allow for future generations of women and minorities’ opportunities in which we could never compete for,” said Maj. Erica Legg, 192nd SS director of operations, as she officiated the ceremony.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Dorothy May Tatem made history when she became the first Black woman to enlist in the VaANG in 1973. While in attendance at Jackson’s promotion ceremony, Tatem spoke to the event’s significance.

“It meant so much to me to see an African American female make chief master sergeant in the Virginia Air National Guard,” she said. “It was something I didn’t want to miss. It’s part of my history. It’s part of the history of the Guard.”

By federal law, no more than one percent of the USAF enlisted force may hold the rank of chief. Out of more than 1,800 chief master sergeants in the ANG, women make up about 12 percent while even fewer chiefs are Black at six percent. As the 173rd Airman to be promoted to chief in the VaANG, Jackson paves the way for Black women following in her footsteps.

Jackson’s military career began in 1996 when she became the first member of her family to enlist active duty into the U.S. Air Force. In 2005, she transitioned to the VaANG to pursue a career in nursing while continuing her military service.

"Joining the Air Force was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life," she said. "And then joining the Virginia Air National Guard was an even better decision because I get the best of both worlds - still serving while being a civilian and doing a job that I love."

For Jackson, the goal was never to become a chief. And, she didn’t really have intentions to retire from the military. Her vision was to “see the world and make a difference.” Now, in her 25th year of service, Jackson can look back on the challenges she has overcome as a Black woman - sometimes the only Black woman - in her career field and provide reassurance to rising Airmen.

“Remember, you're here because this is where you're supposed to be,” Jackson advised. “Be who you are, set your goals and go after them. Do not let anything stop you. You will have challenges, but you can overcome them. You are worthy, and you can do it. I am an example of that!”

Jackson’s leadership saw the chief in her. And, through hard work, pursuit of educational and leadership opportunities, and perseverance, she earned the rank of chief master sergeant.

“Chief Jackson had been functioning at the chief level long before she ever pinned it on,” said Maj. Fallon Martin, 192nd SS commander. “Her focus has rightfully remained on the care of Airmen and people, even in her civilian capacity. For years, she has been a go to senior leader that any squadron commander could lean on for wise counsel. She is exactly what you want in a chief.”