During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Marcella Hayes Ng, who was the first female African American pilot to serve in the military.
Marcella Hayes Ng joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) while in college at the University of Wisconsin. She excelled in training, becoming one of the two women accepted for the Tri-Service ROTC Exhibition Drill Team and taking on a leadership role at the ROTC Advanced Camp in the summer of 1977. Later, her achievements during ROTC training allowed for her to attend U.S. Army Airborne training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, after she graduated in 1978 and commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Ng later stated that it was Lt. Col. Robert “Bobby” Pedigo, an Army aviator, who introduced her to the idea of applying for flight school upon her graduation. Though women attending flight school was still new at Fort Benning, Ng worked hard to qualify with the other students.
“Women were no longer separate; we were regular Army officers, and there were enough minorities in my program that it did not make a difference,” she told Centralia Fireside Guard in a 2012 article for the magazine MadameNoire.
In the fall of 1979, Ng attended the U.S. Army Aviation Center in Fort Rucker, Alabama, to take on helicopter pilot training. In November she earned her aviation wings and she qualified as a helicopter pilot, becoming the first African American female to fly in the military.
While in flight school, Ng met Dennis Ng; they married in January 1980. That summer, Ng was assigned to the 394th Transportation Battalion at Nellingen Kaserne base near Stuttgart, Germany. Ng was the first African American and first woman leader to serve in the battalion. But she also faced challenges when she tried to continue flying. According to a December 2020 article on the McClatchy news site, in order to fly the Army’s UH-1 “Huey” helicopters overseas, the battalion had to test and clear her for in-country flying. Ng’s commanders, however, did not approve flight time. When she did fly, she did not get the necessary feedback.
“At this point, I couldn’t even tell you the story without bursting into tears,” Ng admitted. “I would go for weeks, close to a month, before I would get in the aircraft again. So, you know, you get to the point where you’re getting rusty.”
Later, Ng lost her flight status but she continued to serve as a leader in the transportation corps. Ng then served at a base in South Korea before returning to the U.S. to become the commander of the 49th Transportation Battalion located at Fort Hood, Texas. She rose to become the corps support command inspector general before she retired as a lieutenant colonel in September 2000.
After retiring, Ng started a pregnancy resource center in Nolanville, Texas, where she works with military families. In 2019, she was inducted into the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals’ Hall of Fame.
Thank you for your service!
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Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Katherine Berman and Wilson Sainvil
Fact checker: Ileana Rodrigues
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley