First Latina Air Force pilot shares her experiences

Lieutenant Olga Custodio spoke at Founders Hall on Thursday, Oct. 10, as a part of SVSU’s Visiting Scholars & Artists Series.

Custodio was the Hispanic Heritage Month speaker because she was the first Latina to complete United States Air Force military pilot training, to become a USAF pilot and to serve as a commercial pilot for American Airlines.

While Custodio discussed her journey to becoming a pilot and the obstacles that were in front of her, the focus of her speech was encouraging listeners to work hard to achieve their dreams.

She started her speech talking about traveling around as a kid because her father was in the army.

“You have to give respect to get respect,” Custodio said. “You don’t have to agree with or embrace someone else’s culture, but you need to respect it.”

She said she believes that in respecting those around you in order to be respected, and she took this lesson with her into her career. She went to college with the dream of being in the Air Force and getting a degree in math. When she was denied access to military studies, she fell back on her plan to get a math degree.

“You always have to have a plan, because if there is no plan A, then there can be no plan B,” Custodio said.

She ended up getting a full-time job and marrying before she graduated from college.

She said when she looks back, she appreciates her mom constantly checking in to make sure she was still going to class. It would have been easy to not graduate, simply because she was married and had a job.

When Custodio finally got into pilot training after many rejections due to her gender, she had very limited time because of her age. She shared advice with the audience.

“There are three steps in emergency mode,” Custodio said. “One: maintain aircraft control, two: assess the situation and three: take the appropriate action. This is something you can use in any situation.”

Following this, she talked about a way to view life.

“In life, there are five directions you need to look,” Custodio said. “Forward to see where you are going, down to make sure you aren’t stepping on anyone, around to make sure the people around you are the right people that support you, back to see what got you here and up to thank God or whatever your religious affiliation you are.”

This particular message really stuck with music fifth-year Indigo Dudley.

“Her talking about the five directions that you need to look when you are looking at your path of success hit me something fierce,” Dudley said. “It was really mindful, especially for me, who am going into the big wide world soon. That was really powerful.”

Social work senior Kathy Perez was also really struck by the speech and said she would attend something like this again.

“If I have more chances to get to know about all these different people, I would absolutely come just to learn something,”

Melanie Frasca

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