By Gary SheftickMarch 8, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 3, 2016) -- Not many Army second lieutenants in 1989 were flying fixed-wing aircraft, let alone serving as a pilot for the Army chief of engineers.
That year 2nd Lt. Angelia Farnell was also the first woman to serve in the aviation support unit at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, after the U.S. Army Engineer School and Center moved there.
"That was interesting ... to show up at a unit that didn't have female pilots," Farnell said, adding that all of the pilots were seasoned chief warrant officers, except for the commander who was a lieutenant colonel.
"The warrant officers gave me so much grief, because in their minds a second lieutenant should not have been flying airplanes."
She stood her ground, however, and proved her mettle flying UH-1H Hueys and the U-21 "Queen Air" fixed-wing aircraft. Soon she was asked to pilot the commanding general.
"I've never been one to back down from a challenge," Farnell said. "It's just not in my nature."
Now Col. Farnell is the senior female African-American aviator in the active Army, even though she's not flying in her current assignment. She still mentors other female aviators, and gives advice to those who may someday take her place at the pinnacle of their career field.
"As a leader, as a mentor-coach, I'm always trying to develop my replacement," she said.
Currently, female officers make up about 10 percent of the active Army Aviation Branch. There are about 3,314 male Army aviators and 329 female pilots in the Army, but only a handful of African-American female aviators, Farnell said.
Maj. Gen. Gregg Potter, commanding general of the Intelligence School and Center, noted during his remarks when Farnell relinquished brigade command there. "Always the mentor, Angie has sought every opportunity to give back to our future generations," he said.
Farnell commanded the 111th MI Brigade at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, from July 2010 to July 2012. She was the first female African-American aviator to command a Military Intelligence brigade.
"I've always been one to finish whatever I start; I see it through the end and do my very best," she said. "And so far whatever I've set out to do, I've been very successful in achieving it."
INTEL TO PAO
After her first assignment at Fort Leonard Wood, Farnell attended the Military Intelligence Advanced Course at Fort Huachuca and there learned to fly RC-12 Guardrail aircraft.
She went on to fly aerial reconnaissance missions over the demilitarized zone in Korea during three tours there as well as imminent danger area missions in Bosnia/Kosovo. .
"I strive to be the best at whatever I do," she said, "and also in doing that, I try to open doors or keep doors open for those coming behind me."
Farnell was the first Army officer at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., during her last assignment as part of the Army Chief of Staff Senior Fellows program. She participated in the East Asia studies program as well as the Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program, and conducted research on the connection between K-12 education standards and the military.
She also has served tours on the Army Staff and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, working personnel and readiness policy.
"I make the best of every assignment," she said. Now she is serving as the chief of staff for Army Public Affairs in the Pentagon.
"I've learned a lot," she said about her first assignment in Public Affairs. She has gained an appreciation for the role of journalists, she said and added with a smile that she's mastering the Associated Press style. "There's never a dull moment or a dull day," she said about the fast pace of the news business.
In her time off, Farnell volunteers with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., working with New Hope Housing to help the homeless as well as the sorority's "Stop Hunger Now" initiative to provide healthy snacks for school-age children in Fairfax county. She especially likes to help underprivileged children and young adults. .
She keeps in contact with her roots and tries to go back to her hometown in Louisiana at least twice a year. She grew up in Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, and graduated from Southern University A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Her mother is still in Louisiana and although she's proud of her daughter, Farnell said mom never wanted her to become a pilot. She thought it was too dangerous.
But her parents always told her "whatever you choose to be in life, you be the best that you can be, and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something."
Farnell said she took that to heart.
"I've been referred to as a duck sometimes," she said, explaining she's been told by others "'You just let (stuff) roll off your back and never stress out!"
Farnell said no one should worry too much about the opinions of others. "Believe in yourself," she said. "Don't let anyone define who you are. You define yourself."
Farnell credits her success to the senior noncommissioned officers that molded her over the years and taught her about leadership. She still keeps in touch with many of them. She says there's no greater feeling of accomplishment as a leader than to have your previous Soldiers still stay in touch with you seeking mentorship after they are no longer under your command and tell you the positive impact you made on their life and their success.
"To me, that is the true test that you were a good leader," she said.
"Set your goals high and remember the three C's in life: Challenges, choices and consequences. With every challenge comes a choice. With every choice comes a consequence. And the circle continues," she said.
"The sky is the limit."
(Editor's note: Women's History Month runs March 1-31. Women in today's Army serve as commanders, doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, aviators, special operators, technologists and combat troops. In fact, all combat military occupational specialties are in the process of opening to women. More than 69,000 women currently serve as Soldiers -- exceeding 14 percent of the active force.)