PLAINFIELD, NJ - Drive across South Ave. to East 7th Street in Plainfield, and you might catch a glimpse of a banner celebrating Lieutenant La'Shanda Holmes, the first African-American female helicopter pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Holmes was born in Plainfield's Muhlenberg Hospital in 1985. After her mom passed away when she was just two years old, she faced a difficult childhood, and spent time in the foster care system.
Overcoming adversity, Holmes attended Atlanta's Spelman College as a Bonner Scholar. The program provides a four-year scholarship to students in need who have a commitment to service.
As a freshman, she studied biochemistry. That year, she worked at a career fair, sitting across the way from a gentleman from the Coast Guard. The Iraq War had begun, and he hadn't had many students visit his booth. Holmes struck up a conversation, and became intrigued in what he had to say about the military service.
She was offered a scholarship for her last two years at college, and in 2005, headed to boot camp in Cape May, NJ. Holmes graduated from Spelman College in 2007, and from Officer Candidate School in 2008. In 2010, she earned the coveted Wings of Gold, pinned on her by mentor Lt. Jeanine Menze, the first African-American female pilot in the Coast Guard who flew C-130s.
Holmes moved to Los Angeles, where she worked search and rescue, marine environment protection, and drug migrant interdiction duty. After, in Atlantic City, she worked Rotary Wing Air Intercept, or RWAI, around the President of the United States.
While in Atlantic City, she found out about the White House Fellows Program under the Obama administration, and was appointed to the 2015-16 class.
Today, Lt. Holmes is stationed in Miami. She has applied to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and has received an acceptance letter to become a five-year term member.