NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – In a significant step toward inclusivity and diversity, the Bureau of Navy Personnel (BUPERS) has granted a flight status medical waiver to Cmdr. Emily “Hawking” Shilling, making her the Navy’s first transgender Naval Aviator to be cleared for flying duty post-transition. This landmark decision marks a progressive move by the Navy and highlights its commitment to fostering an inclusive environment.

VADM Carl Chebi, Commander of Naval Air Systems Command, emphasized the importance of inclusion and respect within the Navy. He stated, “Winning with inclusion and respect is one of NAVAIR’s core values – and foundational to our ability to deliver the warfighting capability the fleet needs to win, at a cost we can afford. Including people from different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, beliefs, and perspectives brings creativity and innovation and increases our performance level – and that is exactly what we need to win today, tomorrow, and in the future.”

Commander Emily “Hawking” Shilling stands in front of an EA-18 Growler at Naval Air Station Patuxent River on June 9. Credit: US Navy

Cmdr. Shilling, currently serving as the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System Deputy Program Manager for the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Office (PMA-268) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, expressed gratitude for her support throughout her journey. “The Navy has supported me every step of the way,” she said. “(New) policy may have let me serve and opened the door to potentially flying again, but it was the people of the U.S. Navy, those in command and those on the line, whose unrelenting support truly let me thrive while serving.”

VADM Chebi commended Cmdr. Shilling’s exceptional performance and her vital role within the NAVAIR team. He stated, “Commander Shilling is an exceptional performer and critical member of our NAVAIR team, a team that is focused and dedicated to delivering the capability the fleet needs to execute their mission successfully and return home safely.”

Capt. Samuel Messer, Shilling’s former commander at PMA-268, echoed the sentiment of inclusivity and respect within the Navy. He emphasized the importance of treating everyone with kindness and respect, stating, “That means literally everybody.” Capt. Messer praised Shilling’s professional reputation, abilities, knowledge, and expertise. He affirmed that her presence on the team was an obvious choice, adding, “I am glad we were able to create a command environment that was supportive to her.”

Cmdr. Shilling embarked on her Navy career in 2005, earning her wings as a naval aviator in 2007. She has piloted various aircraft, including the F/A-18 E/F, EA-18G, F-16, and 18 other aircraft. She has also completed two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, receiving three air medals and the Daedalian award for superior airmanship during an in-flight emergency in her EA-6B. In 2015, she graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.

WASHINGTON (June 7, 2023) Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro talks to Cmdr. Emily “Hawking” Shilling during the Department of Defense’s 12th Annual Pride Month celebration. The Bureau of Navy Personnel (BUPERS) recently granted a flight status medical waiver to Shilling, making her the Navy’s first transgender Naval Aviator to be cleared, post-transition, for flying duty. Credit: Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe / U.S. Navy

Secretary Carlos Del Toro, the 78th Secretary of the Navy, expressed his pride in serving all Americans who take the oath to defend the country. He acknowledged the sacrifices these individuals and their families made, stating, “I am proud of the service of every American who takes the oath to put their lives on the line in defense of our country – and their families, who make their service possible.”

The Navy’s decision to grant Cmdr. Emily “Hawking” Shilling, a flight status medical waiver, underscores its commitment to inclusivity and highlights the significant contributions of transgender individuals within the military. This milestone represents a progressive step forward and sets a positive precedent for future advancements in diversity and equal opportunities within the armed forces.

The Navy’s decision comes at a time when the importance of inclusivity and representation in the military is increasingly recognized by granting Cmdr. Shilling the flight status medical waiver, the Navy has demonstrated its commitment to creating an environment where all service members, regardless of their gender identity, can excel and contribute to the mission of defending the nation.

This decision aligns with the broader efforts within the Department of Defense to promote diversity and inclusivity. In 2020, the Department of Defense officially lifted the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the military. This policy change was based on recognizing that gender identity should not be a barrier to military service as long as individuals meet the established standards.

The Navy’s support for Cmdr. Shilling throughout her transition and her continued service as a Naval Aviator is a testament to the progress made in fostering an inclusive culture. It reflects the Navy’s commitment to valuing individuals based on their abilities, expertise, and dedication to the mission rather than their gender identity.

Cmdr. Shilling’s accomplishments and contributions to the Navy are noteworthy. With a decorated career that spans multiple aircraft and deployments to active combat zones, she has consistently demonstrated her skills, professionalism, and commitment to excellence. Her achievements inspire aspiring aviators, particularly those from underrepresented communities, who can now see a path to success and inclusion within the military.

The granting of the flight status medical waiver to Cmdr. Shilling also sends a message of support and acceptance to the broader LGBTQI+ community within the Navy and the armed forces. It symbolizes progress and recognition that diversity within the military enhances operational readiness and strengthens the overall force.

As the Navy celebrates LGBTQI+ Pride Month, this milestone achievement highlights the ongoing efforts to create an environment of acceptance, respect, and equal opportunities for all service members. It signifies a shift toward a more inclusive military culture that values diversity and leverages every individual’s unique perspectives and talents.

The Navy’s decision to grant Cmdr. Emily “Hawking” Shilling a flight status medical waiver is a significant moment in pursuing equality and inclusivity within the military. It showcases the Navy’s commitment to embracing diversity and providing opportunities for all qualified individuals, regardless of their gender identity. With this progressive step, the Navy sets an example for other branches of the armed forces. It reinforces the notion that a strong and capable military is built on the foundation of respect, inclusivity, and the recognition of individual merit.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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