Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Merryl Tengesdal, whose accomplishments include becoming the first and only black female U-2 Dragon Lady pilot.
Air Force Veteran Merryl Tengesdal was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1971, where she dreamed about becoming an astronaut. She graduated from the University of New Haven with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
Tengesdal’s military career began in the Navy via the Officer Candidate School during the summer of 1994, and she was commissioned as an Ensign after completion. Her first flight was on the SH-60B Seahawk helicopter at the Naval Station Mayport in Florida in June 1997. She also piloted the T-34C Turbo Mentor and T-6A Texan II.
In 2004, Tengesdal transferred to the Air Force, where she was accepted into the U-2 Dragon Lady program at Beale Airforce Base, California. The U-2 aircraft is known for being one of the most difficult aircrafts to fly. Tengesdal was deployed to several combat operations, including Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and the Horn of Africa, as a pilot for U-2 and the T38-A Talon. After her tour at Beale Airforce Base, she became a detachment commander in Palmdale, California, in 2008, after which she then joined the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command J8. Tengesdal moved back to working at Beale Airforce Base in 2013 as Deputy Operation Group Command for the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, and then became Inspector General for the 9th Reconnaissance Wing as well. In 2015, Tengesdal achieved the rank of colonel and was given the duty of director of inspection for the Office of the Air Force Inspector General. Tengesdal retired from service in 2017.
During her 23-year career, Tengesdal recorded over 3,400 flight hours with over 330 combat hours, received many awards and decorations, including an Air Force Commander’s Insignia, a Legion of Merit, an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, an Air Force Commendation Medal and an Air Force Longevity Service Award. Tengesdal is now working as a personal trainer and motivational speaker, where she talks about overcoming adversity and encouraging children of color to join in science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M) fields.
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Writer: Alex Reid
Editors: Nolan Lounsbery, Brooke Wolfenbarger, Merrit Pope
Researcher: Timothy Georgetti
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley