The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) honored five exceptional women in Tuscaloosa Feb. 26.
During the Women’s Leadership Luncheon at the Tuscaloosa River Market, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey gave awards to Army National Guard 1st Lt. Kayla Freeman, Becky York, LaTonya Jemison, Dr. Khristina Motley and Ellen Potts.
Ivey said she was thrilled to honor the nominees, who she thanked as “trailblazers who knocked down barriers, one by one.” Because of these female leaders who prepared the way, Ivey said there are now many female CEOs, politicians and business owners who are examples to generations of incoming women.
“As a girl growing up in Wilcox County, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without the stories of trailblazers like former Gov. Lurleen Wallace,” Ivey said. “She was a mentor and a dear friend. The women who have gone before us have showed us that lasting change is possible if we work together toward a common goal. Working toward a common goal is something special I hold in my administration, and that is what we do to get things done in our great state.”
Freeman, the first African American female helicopter pilot in the 200-year history of the Alabama National Guard, was awarded Veteran of the Year for 2019. She said the award was “beyond all my dreams.”
“It’s just a blessing to see my hard work and dedication and many, many sacrifices many people don’t see the final product, but all of this was in the making and it’s a blessing to be recognized,” said Freeman, who flew more than 250 combat flight hours during Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq.
“I never thought I’d be in this position, but I knew I had a dream, I had a goal,” said Freeman, who graduated from Tuskegee University in aerospace science engineering and was enrolled in ROTC. “I wanted to fly and I wanted to engineer, and it took a lot of hard work and some of it looked impossible. In the beginning. I even told myself, there’s no way, there’s no way. But I kept my faith in God, and I kept pushing.”
Jordan Plaster, who was instrumental in establishing Tuscaloosa Rotary Club’s Honor Flight, called York “superwoman.” During the past 10 years, Plaster and York have worked tirelessly to send 850 World War II and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C.
“Each Honor Flight costs about $100,000, but all of our veterans go for free,” courtesy of Tuscaloosa Rotary Club’s sponsorship, Plaster said.
York’s family has a long heritage of military service: her father, uncle and father-in-law were all World War II veterans. She said it has been a tremendous honor to work with Honor Flight.
“It’s been very important to me because I come from a family of veterans,” said York, state president of the Energizers, Alabama Power’s retiree service organization, which has 11 chapters statewide. “I can trace the veterans in my family to the American Revolution, so I’m really proud to recognize veterans and help repay them for the things they’ve done for me and the life I get to live.
“It’s been an honor to provide for our veterans and give them an opportunity to go somewhere and do something they haven’t done before,” said York, who was a manager for Alabama Power’s Aliceville and Reform offices for 37 years.
Motley has been a teacher in Tuscaloosa for 23 years and oversees Hillcrest High School’s Choral department. She directs the school’s all-inclusive choir of multidisabled students. More than 30 members of her Women’s Choir sang at the awards program.
Jemison is a guidance counselor at Hillcrest High School and a mentor to Army Junior ROTC students. She earned a master’s degree in school guidance from the University of West Alabama and has served the Alabama school system for 18 years.
Potts is executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa. She has served the organization since 1997.