Top Guns

They are sky-high achievers.Their objective: not to be the first black or the only woman, but to be the bestperiod.

that I wasn’t prepared for.” Besides, Ng-A-Qui shoots back–using a high-speed antiradiation missile, among her choices of ammunition. She is the first female pilot to fly a combat mission for Misawa’s 35th Fighter Wing.

“When it comes to a career, I feel like I’ve got it all. It’s fun and exciting. I protect the best country in the world and fight for freedom. It’s such an honor and I enjoy it. What more can I ask for?”

AGE: 48
SALARY: $100,000-plus
PROMOTIONS AND APPOINTMENTS ORDER: Firefighter, driver, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, fire chief.
GOAL: To provide more awareness of career opportunities in the fire department for women and minorities.
BIGGEST OBSTACLE: “Overcoming and accepting that I will never be accepted by some in this profession.”
MARITAL STATUS: Divorced, one daughter, one granddaughter

“I can get off the truck,” responded Fire Chief Rosemary R. Cloud to a colleague and good friend who was very supportive of her early years in the Atlanta Fire Department. She is the first and only African American woman to hold this position. “He didn’t know what to do when I first started. When we pulled up to a fire scene, he would run around the other side and help me off the truck,” she says. If only all her colleagues had been so helpful.

After a failed marriage and an unfulfilling job as a legal assistant, Cloud decided to become a firefighter in 1980. It was a prime opportunity because the city of Atlanta was being sued for discriminatory practices in its fire department.

Cloud passed the exam. “I thought I could go in and in two or three years run the department,” she recalls. It took her 10 years, however, to receive her first promotion to the position of driver. ” ‘I don’t even know why you’re here.’ That’s what my mind told me.”

While battling self-doubt, she also had to deal with hostility toward her ambitions in a historically white, male-dominated profession. “Others have already been here and they have cousins, uncles, and other relatives in the department,” she says. “They already know that this is a viable career. We come in here looking for a job. Only recently do we now have [African American] fathers and sons in the department.”

Five months after passing the driver’s exam, Cloud was promoted to lieutenant, testing No. 4 out of 300 candidates. One year later, in 1994, she ranked No. 1 on the captain’s exam. Every position above captain is by appointment. She rose to the level of assistant chief for the Atlanta Fire Department. Early this year, Cloud was appointed fire chief of East Point, Georgia. “It feels like I’m standing at the free throw line with a second or two left in the game,” offers Cloud. “I’ve made it many times and I know I’ve got all the support here for me to make it. My steps are ordered by God.”

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, Ph.D. U.S. National Security Advisor
Age: 48
Salary: $100,000-plus
Challenge: “The United States,

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