Lieutenant Colonel Pilot María Tejada Quintana, age 38, has set a milestone in her country’s aviation history by becoming the first female pilot to lead the Dominican Air Force Combat Squadron. Diálogo spoke with Lt. Col. Tejada about her achievements in her country’s aviation history.
Diálogo: What does it mean to be the first woman to lead the Dominican Air Force Combat Squadron?
Lieutenant Colonel Pilot María Tejada Quintana: It’s a great responsibility due to the complexity of the missions we carry out, and at the same time, I feel very proud.
Diálogo: You were the first instrument flight instructor at the Inter-American Air Force Academy (IAAFA) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, from 2015 to 2017. What kind of experience did this position give you?
Lt. Col. Tejada: It was an exceptional platform for advancing in my military career and one of the most wonderful and challenging experiences of my life. Working as a flight instructor helped me to consolidate my knowledge as a pilot. I am the first female flight instructor in the Dominican Air Force, and the knowledge I obtained while serving as an instructor at IAAFA enabled me to arrive in my country and pass down that knowledge to new pilots, thus contributing to their training as aviation professionals. Also, the experience I gained in this assignment allowed me to lead the Air Force’s Air Training Squadron in my country, where I had the honor of being the first woman to command this flight unit.
Diálogo: What are the main challenges you have faced?
Lt. Col. Tejada: I have faced two enormous challenges. The first one was graduating as an officer at Batalla de las Carreras Military Academy in 2002, as I belonged to the first mixed class of male and female cadets, and expectations were high as to whether we would graduate and break the stereotypes and paradigms that existed at that time. The second one was becoming an A-29 Super Tucano fighter pilot, because in addition to training, I had to have a specific body weight that I did not have at that time, so I went on an extreme diet to gain weight and achieve my dream of being a fighter pilot.
Diálogo: What motivated your belief that you would be successful in the military forces?
Lt. Col. Tejada: I always dreamed of being part of my country’s Armed Forces, especially the Air Force. My desire was stronger than anything else I could have heard, because people told me I was very thin, that I could not withstand the military style, that I could not be a fighter pilot. But none of those comments discouraged me, since my desire to be a service member to serve and represent my country was greater than any obstacle I might have encountered.
Diálogo: What transformations have taken place with respect to gender issues in the military forces of your country, especially the Air Force?
Lt. Col. Tejada: The transformation began on the day they gave us the chance to be part of the Military Academy. Over time, we received new opportunities, and another example of those is that I am now the first female pilot for the combat squadron and the first woman to have the honor and privilege of commanding that squadron, which shows that my country’s military high command, and especially that of the Air Force, believes that gender is not important to fill a position, but rather the readiness level and commitment you have. That is why preparation, training, and studying are part of my life. I have many goals, and I dream of continuing my professional growth and being a positive example for those women who think that, because they are women, they won’t be able to advance in the military forces.