Allyson R. Solomon said she is humbled to become the first African-American and the first woman to lead the Maryland Air National Guard. But she has little time to reflect on that achievement.
Solomon, a colonel who will be promoted to brigadier general today in a ceremony in Baltimore, said she faces the immediate challenge of finding a new mission for the Guard, which stands to lose eight airlift planes scheduled to be transferred to other states.
"We have to find out what is our niche," Solomon said recently in her new office at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore. "We have to be aggressive in looking at new areas, new missions so we can maintain those jobs here."
Solomon, 47, of Northeast Baltimore will become the second woman to attain the rank of brigadier general in the Maryland Guard, which dates to 1774. She is the first to assume the title of assistant adjutant general for air, putting her in charge of more than 1,500 Air Guard members. Solomon, who took command June 1, reports to the newly installed head of the Maryland National Guard, Brig. Gen. James A. Adkins. Both were appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"General Solomon's record of service and personal achievements serve as an inspiration to all the airmen who serve our nation and our state," O'Malley said in a statement this spring.
Solomon has lived in Baltimore since emigrating from Trinidad and Tobago at age 10. Her mother was an accomplished seamstress in Tobago who found work in Baltimore County, she said.
Her stepfather, a police officer in Trinidad and Tobago, later followed them to the city and became a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver.
Solomon said many men in her family were police officers in their native country, so she grew to appreciate structure.
"It seemed a natural thing for me to do something along that line," Solomon wrote in an e-mail.
A family friend who was a recruiter for the Guard approached her about joining the force, which she did while attending high school, Solomon said.
Solomon, who earned a bachelor's degree in business from Loyola College in Maryland and a master's from Auburn University, has spent most of her career in administrative roles in the Guard and the National Guard Bureau. Most recently, she was chief of the National Guard Bureau's general officer branch.
She has also been commander of the Air Guard's 175th mission Support Flight.
"I understand the different perspectives, responsibilities of all levels and how they interrelate in order to accomplish our various missions," she wrote.
The Air Guard serves two roles: responding to emergencies at home, such as hurricanes, and providing support in wartime. Most members are part time, training on weekends year-round.
More than 2,000 Air Guard members have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, performing duties that include security operations on the ground and maintaining and repairing aircraft.
Eight C-130J planes based at Martin State Airport in Baltimore County are scheduled to be transferred out of state next year, part of a sweeping plan by the Pentagon to consolidate bases nationwide. The planes haul cargo and troops.
More than 100 jobs are associated with the planes. None of the jobs will be lost, a National Guard spokesman said.
Solomon said she will work with other officials, including Adkins and O'Malley, to push the Air Force to station new aircraft at Martin.