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Single-Parent Reservist Rises Above Challenges to Earn Wings

Staff Sgt. Shakeyna Smith, aviation resource management technician with the 701st Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, stands next to a Cessna 172 before taking flight, Jan. 25, 2019, in North Charleston, South Carolina. Smith completed 72 hours of flight time through Charleston Regional Accelerated Flight Training and IFR6 of N. Charleston, S.C., before persuing a commision in the U.S. Air Force to pilot C-17 Globemaster III's while being a single parent of two, a full-time college student and an Air Force Reservist. (Courtesy photo/Staff Sgt. Shakeyna Smith)

Staff Sgt. Shakeyna Smith, aviation resource management technician with the 701st Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, stands next to a Cessna 172 before taking flight, Jan. 25, 2019, in North Charleston, South Carolina. Smith completed 72 hours of flight time through Charleston Regional Accelerated Flight Training and IFR6 of N. Charleston, S.C., before persuing a commision in the U.S. Air Force to pilot C-17 Globemaster III's while being a single parent of two, a full-time college student and an Air Force Reservist. (Courtesy photo/Staff Sgt. Shakeyna Smith)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON --

Imagine being a single-parent of two, completing a bachelor's degree and independently financing pilot training in order to accomplish the dream of becoming a reserve pilot with the 315th Airlift Wing, all within 5 short years.

Being a single parent is no easy feat, but Staff Sgt. Shakeyna Smith, aviation resource management technician with the 701st Airlift Squadron here, accepted the challenges that greeted her. From parenting her two small children as a teenage mother to pursuing higher education in psychology and aviation, Smith has embodied excellence in all she does.

As a young mother, “I wanted to ensure that my children could have the best life,” said Smith. “They made me want to exceed above all normal expectations.”

Exceeding expectations is just what Smith did, she became a role model of determination to her wingmen by mentoring through organizations such as Navigators and Truth Talkers, a faith based mentoring organization.

By offering career advice and faith based organization options to new Airmen, Smith also mentored her wingmen at Charleston.

“Being able to see growth in others is my favorite part about the Air Force culture” said Smith.

Through this cultural motivation, Smith exemplified a strong leader’s mentality.  

“Smith has been an amazing mentor and leader,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jamie Arnold, squadron aviation resource superintendent, 701 AS.  “She will take you under her wing, listen and offer the best advice she can.  Smith is one of the best Airmen that I have.”

Motivation to be the best Airman she could be encouraged Smith to set goals for herself and her family, like building a foundation of education for her career. Smith overcame the challenges of single-parenthood while also attending college classes full-time in pursuit of her Bachelors in Psychology at Coastal Carolina University.

“My children have helped me build the determination to persevere through all challenges,” said Smith.

After earning her bachelors in 2017, Smith started on her next endeavor… at 10,000 feet. Inspired to pursue aviation by the variety of backgrounds within the 701 AS, Smith took to the skies through flight training.

Flight training wasn’t the only place Smith picked up her knowledge and encouragement, “my wingmen at the 701 AS came from every walk of life,” said Smith. “Lt. Col. Keith Moore, my mentor, encouraged me to start flying by saying ‘this is where you get your help from.’”

Smith earned her private pilot’s license by accomplishing over 72 hours of flight time, she hopes to encourage others to try new things and reach for high goals.

“I like to motivate, encourage, and inspire,” said Smith. “My goal is to let others know that anything is possible.”

Through hard work and dedication Smith rose above family hurdles and other obstacles to become a hand selected enlisted service member to commission as a future C-17 Globemaster III pilot.

Fellow female aviator and wingman Lt. Col. Susan Gordon, C-17 pilot at the 701 AS said, “Smith is an excellent role model for female aviators as well as young parents. She empowers the people surrounding her to be their very best.”

While overcoming challenges, Smith has shown the discipline it takes to become a commissioned officer by setting high standards without failure.

“I’ve always been a work first, play later type of person. I look forward to getting the job done and taking care of others,” said Smith.

From a young mother, to college graduate, and now self-made pilot, Smith couldn’t have persevered without her faith, family and the support of her mentors and wingmen.

“You have what it takes inside of you to accomplish every goal you set forth,” said Smith. “Nothing is impossible.”