JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – Fifteen percent of personnel currently serving in the Air Force are African American. An even smaller percentage are African American women who make up the Air Force officer corps. As part of Black History Month, the 459th Force Support Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Miriam Carter, shares her experience of being a Black leader in the military.
Carter is from Trinidad and Tobago. As a young adult she made the decision to leave her country of origin to move to the United States to pursue a better life for herself. Joining the military hadn’t originally crossed her mind, until one day when she realized the opportunities it afforded would allow her to better herself, her education and serve others.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a flight attendant or lawyer though I did not have a plan,” Carter said. “I knew I wanted to serve others in some capacity. I never dreamed of joining the military.”
In November of 1995, Carter made the decision to join the Air Force on active duty. When she was a senior airman she met a fellow African American female enlisted Airman who was out-processing to start Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). It was then she knew it was possible for her to become an officer as well.
“Around this time I didn’t really come across many African American female officers,” she said. “We started talking and she convinced me to look into commissioning. Seeing her pursue her goal of becoming an officer allowed me believe in myself. I did my research and realized that this is something I could also do.”
Carter applied and was accepted into the ROTC program at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. During her time in ROTC, Carter recalls being the only African American in her class.
“There were no other Black females in my class, but rather than letting it discourage me, I let it empower me,” Carter said. “I was not treated any different than anyone else. I had a normal experience. I just knew I was ready to show other female Airmen that looked like me that this is something they could also achieve.”
Carter separated from active duty as a captain and shortly after transitioned to the Air Force Reserve. She remained at her duty location where she admits there was not much diversity.
“The location I was in lacked diversity,” she said. “I knew I wanted to change locations. The base was nice, but I was ready for something more.”
Carter eventually chose to come to Joint Base Andrews, Md., in October 2011, as a traditional Reservist. She deployed to Al Udied Air Base, Qatar, and post-deployment she had assignments at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and the Pentagon. In September 2018, she would promote to the rank of Lt. Col. In 2020 she applied, interviewed, and was selected for the position of squadron commander for the 459th Force Support Squadron.
“Being selected for a squadron commander position was a blessing,” she said. “I’m thrilled for the opportunity to affect Airmen’s lives in a positive way. I want to set an example and I will do what I can to help other Airmen realize there are opportunities available for them.”
Carter shares advice for African American Airmen who aspire to reach heights that they believe are unattainable.
“As a young Black island girl, I didn’t see myself being where I am now, I didn’t even know it was possible,” she said. “My advice to young African American Airmen and all Airmen is to go to school and get your education. There is something out there that you will love, but you have to step out of you comfort zone to do it. Also, get several mentors. It’s impossible to obtain your dreams on your own. There are people out there just like me waiting to help you.”