FORT BELVOIR, Va. — In her dreams, Dina Elosiebo could always fly.
She was a kid the first time the images showed in her sleep. Over the years, the dreams would return again and again. Almost always, they were the same. She’d hoist one of her younger siblings — sometimes two — on her back. Then they would all take to the sky.
“It was always a struggle because, at first, I could only carry one of them,” Elosiebo recalls, the memory still so vivid after all these years. “Then, I got stronger, and I could carry two. I have four siblings, not two, so somebody was always getting left behind. One way to solve all of that is to actually fly a plane.”
Not only would the Memphis native eventually learn to fly planes and helicopters — a career she says was inspired by those recurring dreams — she would make a bit of history in the process.
Back in February, 1st Lt. Demetria Elosiebo earned her Army aviator wings after 15 months of intensive training and became the first African-American female pilot for the District of Columbia National Guard. It’s an achievement that is noteworthy even in 2014, when the president of the United States is black and other African-Americans continue to make significant strides in politics, business and other fields.
“It’s huge for us,” said Brig. Gen. Arthur Hinaman of the DC National Guard. “Only like 6 percent of commercial-rated pilots are female. Only 6 percent of certified flight instructors are female. And if you look around the industry, there aren’t that many African-Americans. So for an African-American female to come through this, it’s a really big deal.”
Two or three times a week, Elosiebo, 33, climbs into the cockpit of a Black Hawk helicopter and takes off from Davison Army Airfield about a half-hour south of Washington. Some days, she flies a loop around the nation’s capital, where spread out below her are the marble monuments and stone edifices that are instantly recognizable symbols of the federal government.
“I love the beauty I see up there when flying — nature and God’s creation,” Elosiebo said. “And I love being able to fly over those monuments, too. It’s pretty cool.”
Though she has earned her Army aviator wings, Elosiebo is still in training. Military pilots fresh out of flight school must go through a series of test flights where their performance is evaluated by an instructor. The exercises can be especially tricky in Washington, where air space is restricted and pilots must be extra careful not to venture into off-limits areas.
Eventually, Elosiebo could be called to pilot Black Hawks on all kinds of missions, everything from escorting dignitaries around Washington to, when her company is deployed, picking up wounded soldiers from the front lines and transporting them to hospitals.
Elosiebo’s triumphs are no surprise to her parents, Renee and Augustine Elosiebo of Memphis. She was a go-getter from the day she was born, her mother said.
With four younger siblings, “she had to be in charge because whenever something went wrong, she was held accountable for it,” her mother said. “So she learned at an early age how to negotiate with people to get them to take care of business and to get them to do what needed to be done.”
A graduate of White Station High School, Elosiebo earned her civilian pilot’s license and her flight-instructor certificate while she was a student at Middle Tennessee State University. Instead of flying for a commercial airline, she decided to pursue her military aviation wings. She is now a platoon leader over aviation maintenance with the DC Guard’s D Company, (Air Ambulance) 1-224th Aviation.
Elosiebo said she knows her career would not have been possible without those who came before her — people like Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female pilot, and the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II.
“They paved the way for me,” she said.
A few years ago, Elosiebo rented a civilian plane and took to the skies with her siblings, just like in her childhood dreams.
“Until they actually flew with me, they used to say, ‘Well, I’m not flying with you!’ ” she said, laughing. “But now they’ve flown with me and they’re like, ‘Oh, she knows what she’s doing.’”