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This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE


La’Shanda Holmes

Age: 26

Place of Residence: Los Angeles, Calif.

Why she is a local hero: Holmes overcame early adversity in her life to become the first Black female helicopter pilot in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Holmes’ early life was difficult to say the least: Her mother committed suicide when she was 2, and after abuse occurred in the foster home where she lived, Holmes was separated from her sibling. Afterward, Holmes bounced through the foster care system until she found stability at 17 with the people she still calls her “parents.”

Once Holmes graduated high school at the top of her class, she attended Spelman College. It was there that she became interested in the Coast Guard while volunteering at a career fair. The Coast Guard helped pay her way through college with their pre-commissioning program, and while she was working on a Coast Guard cutter, the seed of becoming a pilot began to sprout in her mind.

“I was used to people telling me what I couldn’t do. We moved around a lot, and I think it fueled my ambition to live better and work harder. It just gave me more motivation to succeed,” Holmes told the Coast Guard’s blog.

The first time she was out over the water in a helicopter, Holmes knew she was hooked.

“We did hovering and flying low over the water. I was like a little kid. It was like nothing I had ever done or seen before. It was awesome,” she said. “Everyone in the aviation community was so close. There was a real sense of camaraderie that I wanted to be a part of.”

The culmination of her years of hard work were realized when she received her wings at graduation. Pinning her was Lt. Jeanine Menze, the Coast Guard’s first Black aviator.

“It was a really emotional experience. Both of our eyes were watering and she asked me, ‘Are you ready for this?’ I can’t think of a more awesome moment in my life,” says Holmes.

The people in Holmes’ life have no doubt she will succeed.

“I knew she would be successful. She had already overcome far greater challenges than flight school. I had the opportunity to do a familiarization flight with her, and where most folks might get a little frustrated, she drank it all in. She was eager to improve and I had no doubts she would do well,” says Coast Guard Commander Mark Murray.

Holmes knows that being the first is special. She is aware that her accomplishments will inspire countless young people coming up behind her. Now, Holmes is stationed in Los Angeles, where she will sometimes fly dangerous missions to protect this country.

“I know I’m the first, but nothing has sunk in yet. People may have expectations, but for me, mainly, it is about taking on responsibility and knowing I have something to prove [as a pilot]. I just want to keep flying well and working hard to make my community, family, and sisters proud of me,” says Holmes.


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