CW4 Stephen Boyd was raised in Boston during a pivotal time of civil rights in Massachusetts. Implementation of the 1965 Racial Imbalance Act was ordered by United States Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity in 1974 and was followed by school desegregation, forced busing, and riots in Boston.
“Court ordered desegregation and forced busing started shortly after my family moved into a predominately white neighborhood. I always tell people that our family story was like the book ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ but where that story ended is where the second phase of our family began. We were the black family that moved into an all-white neighborhood and were not wanted, said Boyd.
Boston was going through a transition period in its history in the 1970s.
“It was a very tumultuous time to grow up in Boston. We saw a lot of things. We saw race riots. When you see the tapes of kids in the sixties in the south being taken to school under police escort, people throwing rocks at the busses, that was us in the 70s; in Boston,” added Boyd.
Despite growing up in a turbulent era in Massachusetts, in 1990 Boyd would become the first African American from Massachusetts to complete the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program at Fort Rucker, Alabama. To this day, he remains the longest tenured African American pilot in the in history of the Massachusetts National Guard.
“When I was in high school, I had a dream of becoming a pilot. Through the military, I was able to make that dream come true,” said Boyd “So for me, it is like, we all have things we dreamed about when we were kids, but how many people can say that they grew up to be what they dreamed? That is what the Army made available to me.”
Boyd’s parents were both children of the great depression. His mother grew up in a single parent household and his father on a sharecropping farm in Woodland, Alabama. His father joined the Army during the Jim Crow Era and served in an African American unit that fought in France during WWII.
Boyd’s mother worked the Charleston Naval Ship Yard in Boston as an electrician’s handmaiden wiring gunner turrets on battle ships.
“My parents met at USO dance on Camp Edwards, my current National Guard home station,” said Boyd.
After the war, Boyd’s father left the Army and married his mother. Boyd is one of five siblings born in the fifties and sixties. During his early years, he lived in the Franklin field housing projects in Boston. His father worked multiple jobs and saved enough money to move his family out of the projects and into a purchased three-bedroom home in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. “He always had faith, that regardless how bad his past was, he had faith in the future and always worked hard to make a better future for his wife and five children,” said Boyd. “My father encouraged his children to strive for more. Despite the challenges our family faced, my parents taught us to take people one person at a time. Hatred of any form or shape was never encouraged in our home.”
Boyd’s father also encouraged his children to serve their country in the military. One day, Boyd decided to take advantage of a National Guard program that funds state tuition for its residents.
“I was a down on my luck college kid with no money and I ran into my best friend on the subway one day. I hadn’t seen him for a few months and he said he just joined the National Guard. I was already going to University of Massachusetts, so I said I will join. I will do my time, get my education paid for and get right out. That was 34 years ago. I changed my mind and fell in love with the military,” said Boyd.
Boyd joined the National Guard as a private in the infantry. After some time in the infantry, he became interested in the Army Aviation program.
“All of my buddies in town were infantry in a predominately African American National Guard unit. They told me that I would never get into pilot training, and that there were no African American pilots in Massachusetts; that I was going beyond my reach. I went in the hangar and told them that I would be willing to sweep floors or do any job just to get my foot in the door to the Army Aviation,” said Boyd.
Boyd began his career as a Huey crew chief eventually becoming a warrant officer and fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot; after a brief retirement, in 2008, Boyd returned to the Army and started to fly Blackhawks. After a brief period of time, he transitioned to fixed wing aircraft and eventually deployed to Afghanistan as a Reconnaissance aircraft pilot.
“When I came out of retirement in 2008, the Hueys were all gone. They became museum pieces and were sold to third world countries. I deployed to Kuwait flying Blackhawks and the day I came back, I was selected for fixed wing. Within six months I was at Fort Rucker to become qualified on C26 aircraft, then the Army needed King Air pilots and I deployed to Afghanistan flying RC12 aircraft,” said Boyd.
In 2016, while completing his annual training in Gabon during Central Accord, Boyd was introduced to the U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) Safety Director.
“I was blown away and didn’t know that such an organization existed and immediately fell in love with idea and concept. Bob asked if he could get me on active duty orders to work with the Safety office at USARAF if I would work for his team. I agreed and January of 2017, I came to Vicenza,” said Boyd.
Boyd attributes extensive experience in corporate operations and experience as a Six Sigma Process Analyst as a foundation for his methodology for the pilot safety program he is spearheading in Africa.
“Even with all of the aircraft I have flown and all of the things I have done, it has been the highlight of my career. If I can’t be flying, this is exactly what I want to be doing with USARAF,” added Boyd.
The steps to develop the pilot safety program from concept to reality took place in Kenya this year. Boyd is scheduled to travel back to Kenya and other partner nations in the coming months to further assist partner nations with the development and implementation of aviation and ground safety procedures.
Boyd says one of the greatest lessons learned when working with partner nations is sincerity.
“We have to be sincere and approach interactions with our partner nations with respect. Regardless of who I am speaking to, my approach is transparency, managing expectations of USARAF capabilities, and not assume I know the needs of the partner nation. Mutual respect, open free flowing communication, is what we work to build on the continent. During our final AAR at the end of my last trip to Kenya, the students and our team were welling up. The Kenyans referred to our team as family and said we must come back. That spoke volumes to me,” said Boyd.
This is the second year of Boyd’s tour with USARAF.
“After USARAF I will probably retire. I love the mission. I love what I am doing. I love my job. I have tremendous respect for the safety team, and this project is like my swan song. It is something I would like to finish on a high note. If I am able to serve a third year here, I would like to do everything I can to support the mission of USARAF which I truly believe in and make this safety program a success,” said Boyd.