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348th RS pilots celebrate shared heritage through historic Global Hawk sortie

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Chance D. Nardone
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affiars

Experiencing other cultures is one of the many benefits of military service and an inclusive environment is important in ensuring our military is resilient and ready. In the earliest stages of service, members form teams with people they’ve never met before, often from various cultural backgrounds, including many who don’t look, sound or think like them.

Although service members don’t always work alongside others who share cultural similarities, this doesn’t prevent groups from banding together to accomplish something special.

A group of aviators assigned to the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron recently conducted the first all Asian American and Pacific Islander piloted RQ-4 Global Hawk sortie. On May 19, 2023, eight pilots joined together to fly the historic Global Hawk mission in the United States Indo-Pacific Command theatre which lasted over 24 hours.

While long sorties might be the norm for RQ-4 pilots, one 348th RS pilot said this mission gave her an extra sense of pride.

“I felt excited for it because I knew every member that was going to take control of the aircraft that day, from takeoff to landing, was from the same background and heritage as me,” said Captain Janet Neufeld, a 348th RS pilot. “It was a special day where we got to pay tribute to all AAPI service members.”

The sortie aimed to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is observed in the United States during the month of May, recognizing the contributions, achievements and the impact members of the AAPI community has had on American history and culture.

Col. Delbert Rivera, the vice commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing and AAPI service member, said he believes events like this sortie is proof the Air Force has made positive strides in recognizing members from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

“I have had the pleasure of serving with some outstanding AAPI officers in my Air Force career, but I feel we have been underrepresented in pilot and other rated career fields,” said Rivera. “Meeting with this crew, however, it’s clear we’ve made a positive change and I’m encouraged by the growth in AAPI representation in our RQ-4 community.”

Both Rivera and Neufeld were raised in a military family, but they hope this RQ-4 sortie will inspire future AAPI members who may not have the same tie.

“When I was younger, I didn’t see many AAPI female pilots at all so I never thought this was something I could do in the future,” said Neufeld.  “I feel that showcasing our involvement in significant Air Force operations like flying the Global Hawk will encourage others to pursue the same path. I think this sortie can act as a source of empowerment for others.”

Everyone has a story and a heritage worth sharing; a more diverse military not only increases overall force effectiveness, but also strengthens relationships with allied countries where members will be challenged again to build cohesive teams with people they may not know anything about.