By Sgt. Trenton Fouche
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois –
The Chicago skyline came into view as the three aviators approached the city. The roaring beat of the propellers played like music from an orchestra. Different paths had led them to this moment, but they were now all together in one place. Representing 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, their esprit de corps had propelled them to new heights and they were hopeful this moment could show other African-Americans their dreams could also come true.
As the child of Ghanaian immigrants, Chief Warrant Officer (2) George Frimpong traveled the world as a kid. Born in London, his family eventually ended up in the United States where he finished high school. His path to citizenship led to a journey that has allowed him to continue to see the world. Now as a pilot in the Illinois Army National Guard, he hopes to continue to follow his dreams and inform other African-Americans of the opportunities to fly.
Frimpong enlisted in the U.S. Army July 14, 2011 as an active-duty patient administrator specialist. His responsibilities were to perform clinical support for military service members and families. Although he understood the significance of his role, he still had a suppressed, yearning desire to become an Army pilot. His curiosity for aircrafts began at a young age. What was initially his father’s passion for aviation soon became his.
“My father had to pause his dreams of becoming an airline pilot to provide for our family,” Frimpong said. “He used to put “Captain” in front of his name on all of his schoolwork because he knew what he wanted for himself. Little did he know that he was manifesting my destiny and even though it took longer than planned, it still ended up working out perfectly.”
Frimpong began Warrant Officer Candidate and flight school in 2017. Throughout the journey, he explored other career paths before ultimately confirming his passion, aviation.
“There was a period when I was 18 years old in college when I thought that it was my calling,” Frimpong said. “I was easily deterred and ended up dropping out of college and getting a job selling cable. The next opportunity presented itself while I was on active duty, but I let it slip again, chasing other dreams. But what God has in store will always find its way to you.”
While Frimpong was realizing his dreams, another African-American future pilot also began discovering his passion as well. Chief Warrant Officer (2) Aendri Decker of Aurora, Illinois enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in January 2011, his initial military occupation specialty was as an infantry Soldier.
“I was in an infantry unit right outside of Aurora,” said Decker. “I spoke with my readiness non-commissioned officer and told him that I was looking to push myself. I wanted to do all I could for the Army. In my mind that was Special Forces or aviation. He got me information on both, but aviation seemed to move a lot smoother.”
Decker felt his experience as an infantry Soldier would be an asset in his pursuit of aviation and would help provide a different tactical angle.
“The infantry unit that I was in was a dismounted, reconnaissance oriented security unit,” explained Decker. “We didn’t have a lot of heavy vehicles, but part of that was the air assault piece. I attended air assault school and during training we would rappel off of the side of Black Hawks. That was another unique experience that involved aircraft. Spending that time kind of gave me some insight and a perspective on seeing how important helicopters can be to the ground force element.”
Similar to Frimpong, Decker’s father also immigrated to the U.S. for better opportunities.
“While I was in Warrant Officer School, one of the training, advising, and counseling (TAC) Officers was Haitian and my father is also from Haiti,” said Decker. “I thought that was really cool. We were in a school house setting so it wasn’t an ideal place to build comradery, but it was still great for me to see someone with a similar heritage to my own in a key role in the military.”
While attending Warrant Officer Candidate School, Frimpong also noticed how rare it was to come across other African-Americans pursuing aviation.
“My Warrant Officer School class was a very diverse group from the ground warrant perspective, but as far as aviators, there were no women and I was the only person of color,” said Frimpong. “I did not realize how few black aviators there were in the country, let alone in the Illinois Army National Guard. When I realized that I was going to be one of three currently serving, there was an indescribable pressure that I placed on myself that I could not fail because I was representing the future of black aviators in the state.”
The glaring reality of having so few African-American aviators pushed Frimpong to pursue diversity among pilots and aircraft professionals through outreach programs and speaking at schools. He began educating his peers on the possibilities of pursuing aviation, drawing inspiration from the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Frimpong approached other African-Americans within the Army National Guard to form an all-black flight crew. The first in the history of the ILARNG.
“Mr. Frimpong approached me and explained that he would be flying along with Mr. Decker,” said Sgt. Jonathan Blair of Chicago, a crew chief assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment out of Kankakee. ”He asked if I would be able to take the opportunity to come fly with them and shared that it would be an all-black crew. We both understood the importance of us doing this.”
“It was very significant because it symbolized how far inclusion has come in the Illinois Army National Guard, but how far we still must go,” Frimpong said. “There are only 3 Black pilots in the ILARNG and Sgt. Jonathon Blair is the only black crew chief. So, without him, the flight was impossible.”
Blair served as a crew chief in the Marine Corps from 2000-2005, deploying to Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003. He took a break in service to obtain a degree in aerospace engineering from Arizona State University and worked full-time as an engineer before joining the ILARNG in 2018. He is now an Officer Candidate in the Illinois Army National Guard’s 129th Regiment’s Regional Training Institute (RTI) Officer Candidate School.
On March 31, 2021 Frimpong commanded the all-African-American flight crew. This symbolized African-American advancement since the Tuskegee Airmen.
“For me it’s a next step to a stronger, better-rounded Army,” said Decker. “When people from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences come together, you can produce great results. It is an example of what’s possible for African-Americans. I have a new born boy, but I also have two young daughters who are getting to an age where they understand that dad flies helicopters in the National Guard. I enjoy having these open conversations with them. George Frimpong is also really good at marketing aviation to other African-Americans and going out to these schools. He does his flying program with youth and tries to give more exposure to aviation.”
Sgt. Blair expressed the significance of taking advantage of the opportunities available, even if you may be different than everyone else in the room.
“I understand what it feels like to come into a flight unit without having anyone else that looks like you,” Blair said. “It’s important that people know the options and opportunities that they have. The doors are open to you as long as you want to go through them.”
Frimpong credits his mentors and leaders for assisting him in his journey and expressed the importance of asking questions.
“Ask for help and don’t stop asking,” Frimpong said. “There are so many resources available for anyone to find a way into aviation. If it’s your goal, then don’t stop.”