In the heart of the Mojave Desert, tucked under the grip of a harsh dry climate, 13-year-old Georgia Cervantes flourished.
Cervantes and her family lived in the close-knit military community of Fort Irwin, Calif., which sits 30 miles from the nearest town. The Mojave’s desolate landscape in north San Bernardino County confined most youth activities within Irwin, and families banded together.
Here Cervantes tried it all: she twirled on the dance floor, pushed herself while swimming laps at the recreational center pool, and tussled with other girls on rugby and soccer fields.
She joined other neighborhood kids in the park across from the family’s house. She also volunteered for several hours a week at the post’s local uniform exchange.
Her mom, Jacqueline, said her daughter always looked for the next athletic challenge while making the honor roll each semester. Cervantes and her three siblings lived at different Army installations growing up in Georgia, California and Washington state. She said being exposed to the military lifestyle encouraged her to join the Army.
After her family moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Cervantes’ penchant for adventure eventually led her to applying for enrollment at the U.S. Military Academy.
A decade later, Georgia straps on her flight suit as she and fellow Black Hawk pilot inspect a UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter at Robert Gray Army Airfield in Fort Cavazos, Texas.
Amid the whir of the Black Hawk’s engine, she and Capt. Dana Spinks, an experienced Black Hawk pilot, go through each of their pre-flight checks. She approaches each facet of her duties as a pilot with the discipline she honed at West Point.
Through the tutelage of her West Point mentors, she saw the possibility of a career in aviation. Few women enter the career field. But at West Point, Cervantes saw that trend changing.
“I don’t see Hispanic women in aviation, and if I focused only where I see Hispanic women in the field right now, I’m putting significant restrictions on myself,” Cervantes said. “We’re starting to prove that … we can be aviators.”
“We can be doctors, we can be great plumbers, we can do whatever we want to do,” she added. “We’re not limited to what our roles have been in the past.”
Cervantes also changed in other ways. As a high school student, the soft-spoken Cervantes remained shy outside of her circle of friends. West Point challenged her to become a leader. She competed on West Point’s women’s rugby team and also served as her company’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program representative.
“She became more confident and more vocal,” Jacqueline said.
Cervantes admittedly struggled to learn the engineering concepts needed to grasp Black Hawk Flight training. She majored in Spanish at West Point before transitioning to aviation after graduation.
A Black Hawk pilot must have complete trust in their abilities, quickly react to changing scenarios and possess intricate knowledge of the aircraft’s systems and maintenance. Cervantes said skills that she honed on the rugby field helped her become a pilot. She learned precision set plays that she said helped her develop her skills as a pilot and as an engineer.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play sports my whole life, which gave me some sort of like hand-eye coordination,” Cervantes said. “But the strict mechanics that it requires for you to know your right hand is doing one thing, your left hand is doing another thing, and your feet are doing opposite things.”
Cervantes graduated from West Point in June of 2020. Due to pandemic restrictions, her mother and three sisters had to watch online as she received her diploma and listened to President Trump’s commencement address.
After graduating flight school at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Novosel, Ala., in February 2021, she took the next step in her career; simulating the crewmember readiness skills she learned in flight school under the guidance of instructor pilots. During flight training students learn slope landing and mountainous operations.
Now in the second phase of becoming a fully certified pilot, Cervantes will fly with veteran pilots on mission tasks such as sling loads, where helicopters carry cargo using a lead line and swivel, and Bambi buckets — lightweight, durable containers that can transport 2,600 gallons of liquid.
Cervantes recently became platoon leader and manages crew chiefs and warrant officers in maintenance of the aircraft.
The adventurous side of Cervantes that defined her childhood years remains with her as a Soldier. Before her assignment to Fort Cavazos, formerly known as Fort Hood, Cervantes deployed to Europe to as a flight operations officer where she tracked flights and filed flight plans. She travelled to Poland, Germany and North Macedonia.
“She’s still my little girl,” Jacqueline said. “But what she wants is to be out there and experiencing life and taking hold of every opportunity that’s given to her… And I think that’s amazing and wonderful. And I am just so excited for her every time she calls me and says, ‘Mom, I’m going to do this’ or ‘Mom, I’m going here.’”