Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
In the Coast Guard’s history of aviation, there have only been five black female aviators. They are commonly referred to as the Fab Five. Right now, there are two more African-American women in flight school, making Coast Guard Academy Cadet First Class Kyla Hughley, who has orders to flight school after graduation, number eight; the excellent number eight.
Growing up in Neptune, New Jersey, Hughley knew she wanted to serve her country.
“My family does not have strong military ties,” said Hughley. “But, for some reason while growing up I loved wearing camouflage outfits and black shiny boots.”
In high school, Hughley participated in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and was interested in joining the Air Force. That is until she was introduced to the Coast Guard in a tragic way.
Like most teens from the Garden State, Hughley spent her spare time at the beach with family and friends.
“I was at the beach with friends when things turned crazy,” said Hughley. “There were first responders on the beach and orange helicopters in the sky.”
What seemed like a perfect late-afternoon escape from the 100-degree heat had gone terribly wrong.
One of Hughley’s classmates was swept under the water by a rip current as his friends tried to save him.
Hughley along with hundreds of schoolmates and relatives stood on the sand, watching the ocean, waiting for it to return the teen’s body.
They lined up ankle deep in the water and formed a 100-plus-person chain for a moment of silence.
The Coast Guard ended its active search for the missing teen after almost 24 hours of searching.
“It was scary,” said Hughley. “I remember the orange helicopters in the air for hours searching for him. Their relentless dedication to finding him was very honorable. That is when I knew I wanted to join the Coast Guard and fly in MH-65 helicopters. I wanted to make a difference.”
Joining the Coast Guard Academy was Hughley’s new mission in life.
“I applied to the Academy,” said Hughley. “I was able to attend, but only after completing a year at the Marion Military Institute in Alabama. That is where I met others going to the Coast Guard Academy. We are still great friends.”
Once at the Academy, Hughley made it her mission to try out for every extra position, every extra class, every extra group, and to soak in every bit of advice from Academy leaders.
“I tried out for everything,” said Hughley. “I wanted to make my mark on the Academy, I wanted to make sure that I got every bit of knowledge from here.”
Since arriving for Swab Summer in 2015, Hughley has been a member of several groups on campus including the Office of Inclusion, Genesis Club, Women’s Accountability Group, Diversity Peer Educators, the Women’s Leadership Council and of course, the Aviation Club.
“I wanted the full college experience and I got it,” said Hughley.
Her senior year at the Academy was extremely packed with extracurricular events; she was captain of the Spirit Squad, co-president of the Women’s Leadership Council and a Class of 2019 Advisor.
In the fall semester of her senior year, she achieved military excellence as the Corps of Cadets regimental executive officer. In this position she is directly responsible for members of the Corps.
“I was really nervous going into this position,” said Hughley. “I had taken leadership positions before, but not one so directly involved with an impact on the lives of over a thousand people.”
The XO is responsible for representing the entire Corps when the regimental commander is absent, assisting the RC in the execution of duties, ensuring compliance by the Corps to the regulations and policies of the Academy, maintaining the good order, discipline and welfare of the Corps and to maintain unit readiness of the Corps.
The XO is also the president of the Cadet Safety Board and serves as the Corp’s representative to the Academy Safety Board.
“I liked the challenges that being the XO had,” said Hughley. “I enjoyed seeing people coming together and working to make a difference.”
Hughley also achieved military excellence and was honored by being named to the Commandant of Cadets list.
Military excellence is not the only thing Hughley was able to accomplish at the Academy; she also excels academically.
Already a member of the Dean’s List, Hughley looked for ways to grow academically at the Academy and joined the Academy’s Center for Arctic Study and Policy.
The CASP serves as an operationally focused academic think tank to promote research, broaden partnerships and educate future leaders about the complexities of this unique region. Through collaborative efforts, the CASP promotes effective solutions to address present and future Arctic maritime challenges as the Coast Guard increases its Arctic presence.
This year’s CASP cadet team consisted of Hughley, and Cadets First Class Skye Ambrose, Matthew Nagle, and Marshall Reyburn. Their senior research project is Arctic Geopolitics in Greenland: A Thematic Analysis of Arctic Strategies and Field Experts.
Eventually Hughley had to decide what career path she wanted to take in the Coast Guard and apply for her most desired jobs and locations.
“I’m pretty sure I have held the most positions of all cadets ever,” said Hughley.
“Every single semester possible, I have applied for a leadership position and was selected. I always applied because I have to keep striving and challenging myself and aiming for the next big thing. So, with my past goals of being in the military, desiring that “special” feeling, and remembering the Coast Guard’s impact on the Jersey Shore, I decided to apply for flight school.”
During the Coast Guard Academy’s Billet Night in March, Hughley got a huge surprise when she was called up the stage and revealed that she was billeted to attend flight school.
“I knew it’d be competitive but I knew I had what was needed to compete,” said Hughley.
“I got it and I’m very excited! I would say that all of my hard work has paid off and it has only inspired me to strive for bigger things. I feel privileged to be apart of the aviation community and even more honored to be able to possibly be the eighth African-American female pilot in the entire Coast Guard.”
“I might be able to sit in the cockpit with Lt. Cmdr. Jeanine Menze who was the first African-American female pilot, that is crazy! I’m excited and happy and truly blessed.”