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WomenVenture Lunch Speaker Shares Her Story to Inspire Others
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 30, 2021 – Col. Allison Black of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said she never wanted to be in the spotlight, but she’s learned the importance of sharing her story to inspire others.
And when an 8-year-old walked up to the microphone during Wednesday’s WomenVenture Power Luncheon to ask her how she can achieve her goal of becoming a pilot, it was clear her story did just that.
“For being so bold, turn around and look at all these people,” Black told the young girl. “You just took the first step to being successful.” She recommended the girl watch videos, read books, and go to the airfield.
“I am in awe,” Black said. “I only wish I knew what I wanted to do when I was your age. You have so many opportunities. Look around and decide if you want to fly big, little, fast, or slow planes, and then you just have to choose what it will be.”
Black has always taken advantage of opportunities in her career. She enlisted in the Air Force in 1992 and served as a survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialist, as well as deputy of the Commander’s Action Group for AFSOC. She has flown more than 3,400 hours, with 2,000 combat hours in the AC-130H Spectre gunship and the U-28A Draco. She is the first female AC-130H Spectre navigator to open fire in combat operations and the first female Air Force Combat Action Medal recipient. Today she is the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command.
She said she first learned of the impact she could have on other women in 2001 when she helped the Northern Alliance get a stronghold on the territory in Afghanistan. Gen. Dostum, working with a U.S. team on the ground, called the Taliban by radio. Black later learned that Dostum said: “You are so pathetic that American women are killing you. Surrender now.”
A few days later, the Special Forces team came to their home base carrying an AK-47 from the general, with a note thanking her for her work. She also learned that Dostum told Afghan women the story of American women on airplanes and said, “If you continue to fight, you too will have those freedoms.”
It was then she realized the importance of telling and sharing her story.
“I never set out to make that kind of impact,” Black said. “I just wanted to be good at what I do. I believe it doesn’t matter what you like look, what gender you are. You just need to be really good at what you do, and people will want to be around you.”
Her advice to the attendees was threefold: be humble, credible, and approachable.
“Strive to be humble,” she said. “Work to be credible through your actions and create an environment where you are approachable.”
That means you need to be confident and share your story. “I hope I am able to inspire,” Black said. “I’ve had great leaders who have forced me into jobs that I didn’t think I was able to do. But now I’m old enough to say I did pull it off. Experiences gave me the ability to problem-solve. I don’t need to be the expert in the room, if I surround myself with experts ….”
Black said you also need to take advantage of opportunities, and be willing to say yes.
“Growing up, I never felt like I needed someone who looked like me to chase a role,” she said. “But I learned how valuable that is, having the same background, living the same struggles, to show that it can be done.”
She said she also learned how to block out the naysayers and stay focused on where she was going and what she was doing. “I don’t see the awkward stares or hear the awkward comments. I’ve always believed my actions speak for me.”
She said she was grateful for being able to share her story with their WomenVenture crowd. “You all have a story,” she told the attendees. “I empower you to share it.”