By Ashley Benkarski
Before joining the Air Force in 1995, Colonel Dion R. Flynn grew up in Chattanooga where she attended Our Lady of Perpetual Hope in her adolescent years. As peers were considering careers in law and emergency services, Flynn aspired to be a fighter pilot. “My dad raised me to believe I could do anything I set my mind to. That option wasn’t limited due to being a woman.”
She admired her father, Emmanuel, and his work as an air traffic controller. Setting her sights on the Air Force Academy, she prepared by getting involved in track, basketball and soccer to pass the rigorous physical evaluation while keeping up grades. She was accepted into the Academy after high school graduation in 1991 and admits the experience was one of the toughest she’s ever encountered. As a young person, she said she never truly had an idea what she was getting herself into.
That included making 5 free-fall jumps out of an airplane to qualify for her badge at 19, which Flynn said her mother wasn’t happy about. “I was fearless then. I don’t know if I could do it now,” she laughed. Her parents called her hard-headed, but Flynn chooses to use the word ‘determined’ to describe herself. That determination has led to a myriad of achievements and a career she’s confident in. And while she isn’t a fighter pilot as she imagined, her job is vitally important to those who are– She got to the Academy and “figured out her expertise was not in flying but helping provide the assistance to make it possible for our pilots to do their jobs,” she said.
Her first job with the Air Force came as a weapons test manager when she was 22 at Holloman Air Force Base doing rocket sled testing and “getting the latest and greatest in our military missile systems up to speeds of Mach 4, Mach 6 … out in the middle of the New Mexico desert,” she said. She went on to become deputy program manager for special operations forces for the extendable integration system environment and executive officer for Avionics Management Directorate in the positions of Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant and Captain.
With a long list of military, academic and occupational achievements to her name, Col. Flynn now serves as the Chief of Active Guard and Reserve Transition office in the Personnel, Manpower, and Services Directorate for Headquarters Air Force Command on Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, a promotion she received in April 2018 after nearly a decade in the position of Lieutenant Colonel.
With that promotion Flynn joins the short list of African American women Air Force colonels, continuing the legacy begun by Col. Ruth Alice Lucas, who passed away at the age of 92 in 2013.
She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Management at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado in 1995. While serving on active duty, she followed up with her Master’s in Business Administration from Georgia College four years later. In 2000, she decided to try her hand in that field and got married. Her uncle, a General Officer in the Army, asked her to consider becoming a reservist, which she did part-time while working for the Arizona state government as executive director of the Governor’s Military Facilities Taskforce and policy advisor on military affairs to the Governor.
Flynn is the first African American woman from Chattanooga to graduate USAFA, but she doesn’t have to be the last. “Be able to prove others wrong when they say you can’t,” she advised, adding that women in the military have “become part of the conversation. You see expanding roles of women in our society as well as the advancing roles that they play in our military service.” Flynn noted one of her role models and mentor, the first three-star African American woman to be a General Officer in the Air Force Reserve, Lieutenant General Stayce D. Harris who retired last March.
“Look at yourself and determine what you’re capable of. You have to continue with what you know about yourself [and], your capabilities and continue to push … The best thing to do though is be prepared. Be prepared by always putting your best foot forward with whatever opportunity comes to you.”