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Women in Aviation: Capt. Orchydia Sackey

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joshua Hastings
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

From attending an air show where a variety of aircraft put on tremendous aerobatic displays, to watching a Tom Cruise box office hit on the big screen, a multitude of motivational factors may contribute to someone’s desire to become an aviator.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Orchydia Sackey, who was born in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and had minimal exposure to aircraft and flying, currently flies the KC-135 Stratotanker for the 50th Air Refueling Squadron. Her dream of becoming a pilot was born when she went on her first commercial flight.

“I found out that I wanted to be a pilot when I took my first flight to the [United] States,” Sackey said. “I was flying with my family from the Virgin Islands to Florida, and I was in second grade. My mom sat next to me. While she was super scared on the flight, I was having the time of my life. That was the moment that I knew I wanted to fly.”

Uncertain of what route to take, Sackey conducted online research for paths to becoming a pilot. Sackey made the decision during her junior year in high school to pursue aviation through the Air Force and applied for an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“Being from the Virgin Islands, I didn't really know anyone that had gone to the [Air Force] Academy,” Sackey said. “I was figuring out the application process by myself. Neither of my parents went to college. They wanted to help me to the best of their ability, but they had no idea what it was that I needed to do. And so, while I was applying, I was really nervous.”

USAFA is one of the three U.S. service academies that is operated by the Department of Defense and is one of the top universities in the country. Upon graduating from USAFA, cadets commission as second lieutenants in either the Air Force or Space Force and commit to a minimum of five years of military service. Admission into USAFA is a highly selective process that gauges candidates performance in academics and athletics, as well as their character and leadership abilities.

Sackey completed her USAFA application in January of her senior year. After two months of waiting for a response, the representative that Sackey received her congressional nomination from called and let her know that she had been accepted.

“I honestly could not believe it,” Sackey said. “I didn't think that I had what it took to get into the Air Force Academy. That was the first step in my dream to becoming an Air Force pilot because the Academy is the largest producer of pilots.”

During their time at a service academy, cadets are tested in numerous ways and intentionally given a heavy workload to help prepare them to effectively manage stress by the time they commission.

“The Academy pushed me in every way possible,” Sackey said. “Whether it was physically, mentally, academically or militarily, I had never been challenged in that way before. I have always been good at school, but I had never had to balance all those things.”

Sackey received a coveted Air Force pilot slot prior to graduating from USAFA. After graduation, Sackey went off to pilot training, which was the last step to obtaining what she wanted since she was in second grade.

“The biggest struggle of my career was pilot training,” Sackey said. “Pilot training is hard for everyone, but I think it was especially hard for me. For my entire life, my effort has always equated to what I produce. In pilot training, that was not the case.”

During the second phase of pilot training, Sackey found herself in an unfavorable position. She was told she was to go on an elimination ride with her commander. Depending on the results of the fight, Sackey would either continue in her training or lose her opportunity to be an Air Force pilot.

“At that point and at that flight, my entire dream, the thing that I worked my entire life towards was at stake,” Sackey said. “I had given it [pilot training] my all, and so while I was nervous and scared, I was in some ways at peace because I had worked as hard as I could. In the end, I passed the ride because I am here today, and I think that I'm a better pilot for it. I think I'm a better person for having gone through it.”

After the completion of pilot training, Sackey went to her first operational assignment at MacDill to fly the KC-135.

“My time at MacDill has been more than I ever could have asked for,” Sackey said. “The 50th ARS has been a family to me. I could not have asked for a better group of people to work with. They have allowed me to grow as an aviator, as an officer and as a person.”

Despite having a seemingly full schedule from her day-to-day duties with the 50th ARS, Sackey actively seeks opportunities and responsibilities for her to develop as an Airman. Sackey was recognized as the 2022 6th Air Refueling Wing Company Grade Officer of the Year for her involvement as the 6th ARW Aviation Inspiration Mentorship program director and her contributions outside of her aviation role.

The AIM program supports community outreach and engagement by informing and inspiring prospective Air Force pilots through base visits, incentive flights and mentorship sessions. The 6th ARW was the first wing to adopt the program in the Air Force.

“Being a part of AIM is the way that I give back,” Sackey said. “Coming up in my journey to becoming a pilot, I did not have a lot of mentors or opportunities to experience what military aviation was like. Now that I am in this position, I have the opportunity to give back. We have a new program where kids who are unaffiliated with the military have gotten the opportunity to fly on a military plane. That type of exposure could change the trajectory of a child's life.”

Kishima Garcia works at MacDill as the 6th ARW chief diversity and inclusion officer. In her role promoting diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the wing, Garcia has gotten to know Sackey well. Coincidentally, Garcia is also from St. Croix.

“I think it is important to have leaders in the Air Force like Capt. Sackey because her energy is contagious,” Garcia said. “She has this vibrant spirit that says, ‘I can accomplish anything that I put my mind to.’ I think that she is a huge influencer who is able to bring others along with her by her authenticity.”

Sackey continues to be an exemplary Airman and an example of what is possible through determination and resiliency. Despite being part of a career field made up predominately of men, Sackey has illustrated that women can make a significant impact as aviators.

“Being a woman in the military and in the aviation sector, for me, means being an inspiration,” Sackey said. “I remember growing up in my journey to becoming a pilot, thinking that I could not do it because I had not seen many women do it. I had not seen many people of color do it. In my position now, I think about being the example for a young girl who might have that same desire that I did.”