By BOTWC Staff
Stephen Boyd enlisted in the Massachusetts National Army Guard in 1984. Nearly four decades later, he is one of the most decorated pilots to date, having completed missions in Kuwait and Afghanistan, serving as an aviation safety liaison with Kenyan and Ugandan military forces, and taking time to mentor other soldiers.
While he is proud of where his career has taken him, it has not been easy, Boyd beginning his journey at Fort Rucker in Alabama where he was one of the only Black aviators. He credits his parents with instilling that spirit of perseverance in him.
“It’s been a very narrow, very steep road at times. But there have been people along the way who have helped me…[My parents] are of a generation that came from several generations that are very determined and very disciplined in terms of what their situation was and what needed to happen to improve it,” said Boyd.
This past weekend, the veteran aviator was honored for his service, making history as the first African American to make the rank of chief warrant officer 5 as he celebrated his upcoming retirement as the longest tenured Black aviator in the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s history. The momentous occasion was not lost on Boyd, surrounded by dozens of friends and families as he was saluted by his fellow soldiers. When speaking about this historic moment, Boyd said he couldn’t help but think of his father, Arthur Boyd, who served in a segregated military during World War II.
“With my father growing up in Jim Crow South and serving a segregated Army, and a generation later, I stand here as an aviator and a senior warrant, that really is the American Dream,” he said.
Of all the things he’s done, Boyd is most proud of his recent work as an aviation and ground safety officer for Headquarters U.S. Army Africa, based in Vicenza, Italy. For the past five years, Boyd has worked to improve safety culture in foreign militaries, including Kenya and Uganda. He’s written a safety program that’s been expanded and adopted by various militaries and has already accepted a civilian position with the Department of the Army Safety Division of the Southern European task Force-Africa in Italy.
“I’ve gone into some very austere conditions, militaries that have no concept of safety. These are militaries that don’t have the robust medical benefits that we have…I was able to have a lasting impact, where I could stem that tide of accidents and deaths, not just in our military service, but in other countries across Africa,” Boyd explained.
Sgt. George Anthony Morrison, a retired crew chief, said he admires Boyd for paving the way, calling him a “modern day Tuskegee airman.” Boyd takes it all in stride, saying he’s grateful for the support, from his fellow airmen and his family. He also credits his wife Lynne for always being by his side, their marriage the only thing that’s lasted longer than his military career. It is his hope that his work has helped make it easier for other people of color looking to go into service.
“It’s an institution and I’m one man. The institution is where the work needs to be done…For whoever comes along after me, I hope that my contribution makes their journey a little bit easier,” he said.
Boyd will officially retire on May 31. Happy Retirement, Chief Boyd!