JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
She may only weigh about a 100 pounds, but her expertise in flying a 2-ton fighter plane and years of extensive work in aviation helped Maj. Maria Tejada-Quintana land a historic guest instructor position at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Tejada-Quintana, born in the Dominican Republic, knew early on she wanted to follow in her brother’s footsteps as a pilot, but women in her native country were not allowed to enter the military academy at that time. That would soon change and history would follow her every move.
“On Jan. 4, 2002, was the first day I started this dream,” said Tejada-Quintana.
Tejada-Quintana left her home to enroll in the military academy, but some were skeptical.
“When I left home that day, someone said to my mother ‘have lunch ready for her because she will be back the same day,’” she added.
In 2002, women were now allowed to enroll in the military academy in the Dominican Republic for the first time. No one knew if it would be successful. Eighty women entered that first year, but only 27 would graduate. Tejada-Quintana’s love of country and wanting a career propelled her to keep going.
“I was dreaming all the time about being a pilot,” said Tejada-Quintana. She was determined to do whatever it took to reach her goal.
The next step would be to complete two years of aviation school. This time the odds were greater. There were 11 cadets: eight men and only three women.
“It was very hard,” said Tejada-Quintana.
One woman left training and another one had an accident at aviation school, breaking her back and could not continue.
Tejada-Quintana remembered one instructor who took her aside and gave her some encouraging words about reaching her goal of becoming a military aviator.
“You can do it; you will do it. I believe in you,” said the instructor to the aviation school’s lone female student pilot.
Upon graduation in 2007, Tejada-Quintana continued flying and honing her skills. Later on she became the first female instructor in the Dominican Republic Air Force and began teaching future pilots.
After completing the required hours and obtaining the experience needed, Tejada-Quintana began training to become a fighter pilot. She was the only female among 750 men. She knew it was a big responsibility.
“I will do well because now I will be (a role model) for the other girls who will be watching me,” she said.
In October 2012, Tejada-Quintana completed her studies and became the country’s first female pilot at age 28. She still faced some challenges ahead.
“My legs were too short. At the beginning, it was hard to reach the pedals,” she said.
She also needed to gain weight and had to train extensively at the gym.
Tejada-Quintana, an IAAFA graduate, still continued as an aviation instructor while flying missions for her country in an A-29 Super Tucano fighter plane. In 2013, she accepted a position as an instrument flight teacher at IAAFA giving her the distinction of being the only female flight guest instructor teaching international students from partner nations in the Western Hemisphere.
“Working here at IAAFA, I feel like I’m home,” said Tejada-Quintana.
Her goal is to make sure her students get the best education possible.
“For me, it’s about the quality of the teaching and I like the quality of this school,” she added.
Her fellow aviation instructors agree. There are five IAAFA instructors on the team.
Tejada-Quintana was one of the first people Lt. Col. Jorge Ramirez met when he came to IAAFA to teach aviation almost two years ago. Ramirez, from Paraguay, said she works well with everyone and it’s obvious that she loves her job.
“As a professional (military) woman representing her country, she is always well-prepared to do her job,” said Ramirez. “She includes herself in all job assignments,” he said adding her work ethic puts her on the same level as those of her colleagues.
Ramirez said everyone respects her and the knowledge she brings to the academy.
“She’s not hesitant to make decisions,” said Ramirez. “She will leave behind a positive opinion not only of herself, but of her country because of the work she has done at IAAFA.”
Tejada-Quintana is hopeful there will be more females from her country flying soon. She knows of one woman from the Dominican Republic who is on the cusp of becoming a fighter pilot. Once Tejada-Quintana’s mission at IAAFA is completed, she will likely fly with that new female fighter pilot on missions when she returns home.
Tejada-Quintana is looking forward to spending time with her family in her country during the upcoming holidays. She wants to continue to inspire future female pilots achieve their dreams.
While the road has been both challenging and rewarding, she hopes others like herself will focus on the prize.
“Concentrate on what you want and don’t listen to what other people say. Just believe in you,” said Tejada-Quintana.