Following her tenure at GPS, Dion Roland Flynn ’91 attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she received her commission as an officer into the Air Force in 1995. Her first assignment? A weapon systems test manager for high-speed rocket sleds at the 846th Test Squadron on Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Twenty-five years of public service in both civilian and military positions followed, earning Flynn the rank of colonel. Today she serves as Division Chief for the Plans and Integration Division of the Personnel, Manpower & Services Directorate for the Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command Staff on Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. In her role, she is responsible for leading the division that develops HR policy and procedures for strategic initiatives across Air Force Reserve Command units under 37 wings and eight independent groups in support of nearly 70,000 Air Force Reserve Citizen Airmen worldwide.
Q. How did you get into what you’re doing now? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in the military?
A. The short story is somebody told me that I couldn’t follow a path of military service that I had envisioned for myself because I was a girl. At the time, I didn’t know any women who had or were doing the things that I felt like I was capable of doing. But, my parents, especially my dad, had always assured me I could do anything that I set my mind to. My dad served in the U.S. Air Force and as an air traffic controller for the federal government, keeping the skies over our country safe for over 19 years. So, public service was ingrained in me at a very early age. Plus, I love when someone says I can’t accomplish something I know I am capable of doing because that is exactly what I want to do to prove them wrong. Graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy was one of those experiences for me. I was determined to graduate no matter what challenges came my way.
Q. Why are you passionate about what you do?
A. I am so honored to be able to use my God-given talents and abilities, coupled with the skills and experiences gained through the trials of life, to serve our country through military service. It is the calling of service that has fueled my passion. Plus, the intellectual challenge from the diverse roles I have held in my professional career, and the requirement to maintain physical fitness standards, has given me great personal balance and fulfillment.
Q. What is something that stands out about GPS?
A. All the student leadership positions were held by girls. This experience influenced how I have continued to approach leadership opportunities with fearless abandon. When I am the only woman and/or person of color on a list of candidates of my peers, I know at times that my achievements might be diminished at first glance because a woman of color accomplished them. However, repeatedly in my career I have experienced that when senior leadership needed someone to create a new initiative from scratch, I have been the person—man or woman—brought to the table to lead and develop outside-the-box solutions because they know the professional commitment and battle-tested abilities I bring to get the job done. It is exhilarating.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you got during your time at GPS? Do you remember who it came from?
A. My freshman year at GPS, my photography teacher, Mr. Kraft, gave some great advice. During a lesson, I accidentally opened the back of my 35mm camera and exposed all the film. I was devastated. He advised not to be afraid to make mistakes, to embrace the lesson I learned from making this mistake, and to continue to take risks. This experience released me from my preconceived notions and gave me the freedom to push past conventional boundaries. I have since reveled in my mistakes and reflectively learned so many great lessons empowered by the willingness to take risks without the fear of failure. It has been foundational to both my personal and professional life and made me less confined by the notions of what other people have thought about the roles I could fill as a woman of color in today’s society.
Q. If you could offer advice to current GPS students, what would it be?
A. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The humility to ask for assistance can help you grow and will ensure you don’t take shortcuts that can compromise your integrity.
Q. Do you stay in touch with your classmates? What impact have they had on your life?
A. Yes, I have attended all Class of 1991 reunions to stay in touch with my GPS classmates, especially my buddy Lee Cureton. When I started GPS in eighth grade, Lee truly accepted me and brought me into her group of friends. I didn’t feel like the “Black girl” when I was with her. I was just Dion, the GPS student who shared in the GPS experience as a classmate in the Class of 1991 and teammate on the GPS varsity track team. Plus, she has kept me connected to Chattanooga since leaving town to chase my dream. When my mom died unexpectedly in 2003, Lee came to her graveside observance in the Chattanooga National Cemetery without invitation, an action for which I will always be grateful.
Q. Can you point to anything that GPS did to prepare you for your future?
A. Taking on leadership roles overseeing both men and women is second nature to me. One of my first formal leadership experiences was as a ninth grade Honor Council representative. This experience showed me how tough it can be to hold others accountable for their actions, especially one’s peers. But accountability is so necessary to foster and maintain a learning environment that truly values truth in words and actions, respect for others, and equity in the treatment of its constituents. I learned that sometimes, a leader has to be willing to be unpopular in order to do the right thing, which is another lesson I have carried with me and used recently during my time as a commander.
Q. What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?
A. Sticking to my priorities of putting family first before career. I have been able to progress in my career while ensuring that I maintain a strong marriage with my best friend, John (over 20 years now), and raise our children to embrace our values of integrity, excellence, and service to others.