The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Col. Christine Knighton

U.S. Army Colonel Christine B. Knighton was born in Cuthbert, Georgia in 1957. After graduating from Randolph County Comprehensive High School in 1975, she attended Tuskegee Institute and graduated with military honors in 1979. Knighton’s military education includes the Aviation Officer Advanced Course, the UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter Qualification Course, the Combined Arms Staff and Services School, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Knighton also received her M.A. degree in national security and strategy from the National War College at National Defense University.

Upon graduation from college, Knighton was commissioned a second lieutenant and served briefly in the Quartermaster Corps and the Transportation Officer’s Corps. In 1980, she became the second African American woman in the U.S. Department of Defense and the first woman from the State of Georgia to complete aviation training. Knighton then reported to the U.S. Army V Corps in West Germany where her assignments included that of flight section leader of the 205th Transportation Battalion; platoon leader of the 62nd Aviation Company; and logistics officer of the 11th Aviation Battalion. In 1988, she assumed command of Delta Company, the 227th Aviation Regiment – 1st Cavalry’s Combat Aviation Company, and then served a tour of duty at Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu, South Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division as the Aviation Brigade logistics officer.

Knighton reported to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1990 and was assigned as an aviation logistician for the Combat Structure for the Army Study Group. She then was deployed to Operation Desert Storm with the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) to assess aviation units positioned in Saudi, Kuwait and Iraq. In 1993, Knighton was appointed as commander of Hotel Company in the 159th Aviation Regiment (AVIM) and deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia in support of the United Nations “Operation Continue Hope.” Knighton became the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion on November 3, 1996 when she was assigned as commander of a Blackhawk Helicopter Battalion in the 1st Cavalry Division and deployed to Tulza, Bosnia-Herzegovina to conduct aviation operations.

Knighton is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Tuskegee Airmen Association, and served as vice president of the Bessie Coleman Foundation. Knighton was nationally recognized by Glamour Magazinein 1989 as one of its “Top 10 Outstanding Working Women in the United States” and appeared on the cover of USA Today. In 1999, Knighton’s Blackhawk Helicopter Battalion was named U.S. Army Aviation Unit of the Year. Her military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal, the NATO Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, and the Army’s Senior Aviator Badge. Knighton is also authorized to wear the Office of the Secretary of Defense Staff Badge, and received the Order of Saint Michael which recognized outstanding contributions to U.S. Army Aviation.

U.S. Army Colonel Christine B. Knighton was interviewed by The HistoryMakers in July 26, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.187

Sex

Female

Interview Date

7/26/2013

Last Name

Knighton

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

B.

Occupation
Schools

The Broad Academy

Georgetown University

U.S. Army War College

Randolph County Comprehensive High School

Tuskegee University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Christine

Birth City, State, Country

Benevolence

HM ID

KNI01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

11/23/1957

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweet Potatoes

Short Description

Colonel Col. Christine Knighton (1957 - ) , the second African American woman in the U.S. Department of Defense and the first woman from the State of Georgia to complete aviation training, became the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion on November 3, 1996.

Employment

Soldier Support Institute

2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, Blackhawk Helicopter Battalion

Army Personnel Command

Hotel Company, 159th Aviation Regiment (AVIM)

8th Aviation Battalion (AVIM), 101st Airborne Division

Aviation Requirements for the Combat Structure for the Army (ARCSA-V) Study Group

United States Army

1st Cavalry Division’s Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Company (AVIM

Favorite Color

All Colors

Timing Pairs
0,0:12690,286:27434,518:38700,640:40350,669:45825,776:46350,785:49050,831:75142,1153:84500,1357:87682,1424:94342,1533:109526,1758:117606,1879:122014,1963:125130,2020:133308,2169:139302,2314:139598,2324:163780,2643:165110,2668:165390,2673:181092,2946:181477,2952:181862,2967:182478,2976:195692,3186:196052,3192:202964,3325:207284,3430:218329,3562:220811,3610:225910,3679$0,0:2878,25:8872,211:9196,216:10978,253:14623,303:24518,424:26626,481:26966,487:30842,578:31590,593:32746,623:33290,640:33562,645:34038,654:34378,660:34718,666:35126,674:35602,684:35874,689:42550,730:43630,749:44854,775:48166,840:48598,848:59432,1011:60329,1024:62468,1067:63848,1103:65228,1130:65573,1136:65987,1143:66470,1152:66815,1158:67160,1164:73418,1247:73922,1256:76442,1344:97300,1631:100520,1702:103110,1772:103600,1780:103950,1787:104650,1798:105210,1808:111490,1861:111922,1868:112786,1875:113290,1883:114298,1898:114946,1909:115666,1920:117034,1956:118330,1996:118978,2006:120274,2034:125335,2070:126310,2079:128410,2123:129160,2137:130060,2155:135835,2280:141855,2372:142635,2386:143285,2397:143740,2409:144325,2419:146015,2456:149135,2529:149395,2534:149980,2544:155681,2591:156557,2608:173395,2933:177880,3022:181790,3048:184985,3124:187470,3181:187825,3187:188748,3202:190878,3245:191801,3258:192227,3265:192582,3271:193008,3278:196802,3287:197216,3294:199355,3340:201632,3395:204047,3450:205289,3473:206669,3500:207083,3508:207497,3515:207980,3527:211085,3629:224792,3810:225494,3820:228458,3903:239378,4164:246105,4219:250294,4312:250578,4338:250862,4346:251927,4365:254909,4436:255193,4441:255477,4446:260092,4555:260376,4560:266768,4606:268174,4637:280116,4822:280692,4839:281268,4848:285732,4955:288396,5000:293912,5064:296468,5124:296823,5130:297604,5147:300657,5220:302574,5267:303142,5279:307101,5309:307486,5315:309334,5348:309950,5357:310643,5372:313450,5405
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Christine Knighton's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton describes the town of Benevolence, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton describes her mother's growing up in Benevolence, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton describes her father's growing up in Georgia, his migration to Philadelphia, and his towing business in New Jersey

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton describes how her parents met, and talks about their relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Christine Knighton describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton describes her father's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton talks about her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton talks about her maternal grandfather going from sharecropper to landowner in Benevolence, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton talks about the first home that her maternal family bought and the lack of amenities in the South during the 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton talks about President John F. Kennedy's assassination a few days before her own and Caroline Kennedy's sixth birthday

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton talks about her maternal grandparents' home in Benevolence, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Benevolence, Georgia, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Benevolence, Georgia, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton talks about starting school in Stewart County, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton describes her experience in elementary school

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton talks about the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton talks about her family's first television set, and riding the bus to elementary school in Lupton, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton talks about visiting her father in Philadelphia

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton recalls Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton talks about her experience in middle school in Cuthbert, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton talks about state-funded colleges in Georgia while she was growing up, and attending college in Tuskegee, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton talks about her experience in high school in Cuthbert, Georgia, and her interest in home economics

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton talks about the Knighton family's talent for basketball

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton talks about her performance in high school and her decision to attend Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Christine Knighton talks about being accepted to Tuskegee Institute, and her first visit to the campus with her family

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton talks about the integration of schools in the seventh grade in Cuthbert, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton talks about her experience at Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton describes her decision to join the Army ROTC at Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton talks about Lionel Ritchie's relationship with Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton talks about her experience in classes at Tuskegee Institute

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton describes her experience in the Army ROTC at Tuskegee Institute, and her training for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton describes her desire to go to flight school in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton talks about her branch transfer to the U.S. Army Transportation Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton talks about flying helicopters, and doing Ground School Training with Chief Alfred C. Anderson

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton talks about flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton describes her experience at primary flight training

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton describes her experience as an African American woman in advanced flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton talks about the Bell Huey helicopter and her experience flying them

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton talks about graduating from flight school and attending the Tuskegee Airmen Convention in Atlanta in 1980

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton talks about her assignment to the Fifth Corps at Fliegerhorst Kaserne in Hanau, Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton talks about her colleague Marcella Ng's career

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton talks about her reassignment to the 11th Aviation Battalion and her promotion to the ranks of first lieutenant and captain

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton talks about her assignment as the Battalion S4 in the 11th Aviation Battalion

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton describes her experience in the 1st Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton describes her experience as an Aviation Brigade Logistics Officer with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton talks about her tour in Korea in 1988

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton talks about her service during the Gulf War

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton talks about the challenges posed by a desert environment during the Gulf War

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton talks about women serving in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton talks about the living conditions for military service members during the Gulf War

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton talks about Scud missiles used by the Iraqis during the Gulf War, and their eventual surrender

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton talks about women serving in combat missions and the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in the U.S. Army

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton talks about her service with the 101st Airborne Division

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton talks about her assignment as Company Commander of Hotel Company, 159th Aviation Regiment in Somalia

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton talks about her service at the Army Personnel Command as the assignments officer for Aviation majors and lieutenant colonels

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton talks about getting married and starting a family

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton talks about becoming the first woman in the history of the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton talks about the 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation being selected as the Army's Aviation Unit of the Year

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton talks about her service as Assistant Director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management in the Office of the Secretary of Defense

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton talks about attending the Army War College

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton talks about becoming a full colonel and her experience in the Office of the Secretary of Defense

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton recalls her experience at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton recalls her experience at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton reflects upon lessons learned from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Christine Knighton talks about the Army Married Couples Program, and her assignment to Fort Jackson, South Carolina

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton talks about the changes in policy that allowed women to serve in Ground Combat

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton talks about her service as Chief Learning Officer for the Army Officer Corps

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton talks about retiring from the U.S. Army and attending a Superintendents Training Program

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Christine Knighton describes her service as Chief of Human Resources for Prince George's County Public Schools

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Christine Knighton talks about her experience in leadership coaching and executive coaching

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Christine Knighton describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Christine Knighton reflects upon her life and career

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Christine Knighton reflects upon the large percentage of African American women joining the U.S. Army

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Christine Knighton reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Christine Knighton talks about her family and about balancing her family needs with that of her career

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Christine Knighton discusses her concerns about the legacy of African American women in aviation

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Christine Knighton shares how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Christine Knighton describes her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$7

DAStory

7$8

DATitle
Christine Knighton describes her desire to go to flight school in the U.S. Army
Christine Knighton recalls her experience at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, pt. 1
Transcript
So, you were assigned as a Second Lieutenant in the [U.S. Army] Quartermaster Corps, right?$$Right. Exactly. So when I got commissioned--when you are in the ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps], you have to choose your branch at the beginning of your senior year. You choose your preferences for a branch. What do you want to do and what do you want to be. And, you know, so by this time, we had cadre at Tuskegee [Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama], which was a first for us. We had some white cadre members. So, this was new, I think in my junior year is when we got our first Commission Officer, Caucasian instructor, right. And we still keep in contact today, right. He was an Army aviator, right. Our PMS, Professor of Military Science was an Army aviator, and we also had another instructor that was--black instructor that was an Army aviator also.$$Now, wait a minute. Now, did they influence you to (laughs)--$$Oh, yeah. Yeah. (laughs)$$--think about aviation?$$Right. Well, what influenced me, when I went to summer camp--you mentioned summer camp, which was at Fort Riley, Kansas, is where we went to summer camp, and that, for me, that was the first time I would have gone--gotten on a commercial airline, right, exactly. So Columbus, Georgia, to Atlanta [Georgia] was one of the small aircraft, right. And I swore I would never get back in an aircraft again if I ever got my feet on the ground just because of the turbulence, right, from Columbus to Atlanta, right. Much larger plane, of course, going into Kansas City, Missouri, out of Atlanta, right, had a much smoother ride, so, okay; we may be able to do this. But at summer camp we were introduced, you know, different branches, right, the artillery, you know, the infantry, which females couldn't go into at that time; but you got an introduction of all the other branches, right. And I got my first ride on a helicopter, right, which was the Chinook CH-47, in the back of that helicopter. So by the time summer camp was over, I came back, and I told my mom [Annie Lee Knighton] I wanted to go to flight school. And she was like, "Okay. This is the person who was not going to get back on the airplane in Atlanta." (laughs) Right. Exactly Right. "And you're telling me now that you want to fly?" Yeah. Exactly. So she said, "If that's something you want to do, then you need to go for it, you know, do it." So with her encouragement, right, and her thumbs up, or seal of approval--when it came to selecting branches, we had--they also said, "Well, what additional training do you want?" And at time, aviation was a branch. It was an additional skill identifier, right, just like airborne. So, "Who wants to go to airborne school? Who wants to do this and who wants to go to flight school?" So when the flight school--when he asked for flight school, my hand went up, right. And everybody else was like, yeah, right (laughs). Exactly. So you would think with the Tuskegee Airmen coming out of Tuskegee you would have had more hands going up. But I think you did on the Air Force ROTC side, just not on the Army ROTC side, yeah, 'cause most people wanted to fly, kind of wanted Air Force ROTC. Right. So, right, the instructor, Major Marshal Ed (ph.) said, "Hey, Ms. Knighton, I need you to stay afterwards." And so I stayed afterwards, and he says, "Don't waste my time." (laughs) Right. "If this is something that you really want to do, you know, I'll help you and we'll pursue it. But, you know, if you're not serious about it, then don't waste my time." So I didn't waste his time.$$Okay. Now history has shown that you have not wasted his time.$$Right (laughs).$Okay, so were you in the Pentagon on 9-11 [September 11th, 2001; terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, and the U.S. Pentagon]?$$I was in the Pentagon on 9-11; yes, I was.$$Okay.$$Right.$$Tell us your story, what happened?$$I had come to work on, you know, September 11th, just like, you know, every other day. We had--but you know, Tre wasn't--yeah, Tre was still in pre-school then, so he wasn't in school actually. So, right. Every year before that, you know, every year, when--before then, we would visit my in-laws and my dad [Clarence Brown, Sr.] in New Jersey, and we always spent some time in New York. So we had just left the World Trade Center, like, the week before, right, Labor Day Weekend, right, exactly, you know, just doing our normal New York out-and-about touring. So that day was like any other day; come to work, right, at the Pentagon, right, go to your cubicle, drop your stuff; and on this particular day I had a dental appointment, right. So I left my desk, right, went to--was going to my dental appointment, right, was walking by the lab and they had the television on, and you see smoke coming from the World Trade Center. So, you know, I kind of stopped, you know, like, "Okay. Are they showing from the World Trade Center from when, you know, the bomb--." There was a bomb that had gone off there earlier, right, like, a year or so before, right. And then I see 'Live'. This is CNN live. So, it's like, no, this is happening right now. So I go on to my dental appointment, right, and I'm like, you know, the television is on back there, and I'm like, "Oh, my God, you know, what just happened?" And so at this time you didn't know what type of plane had hit the building, so you're thinking maybe it was something smaller than a commercial jetliner. Right, but the commentator is saying--is "No, it was larger than a private plane. It was actually a commercial jetliner. I heard the noise of the plane." Right. And that's what got my attention because we don't have those size planes going, you know, flying over the city. And so my thoughts were, you know, I hope it's not terrorism. And I communicated that to the lady behind the counter, and she's like, "You think it would be terrorism?" But everyone, I think, after [Timothy] McVeigh, and what happened in Oklahoma City [bombing], right, when everyone jumped to the conclusion that it was terrorism right away--nobody wanted to do that because it could have been domestic in nature. So I think everybody was very sensitive about calling stuff terrorism, right, exactly, before you could validate it. And so I said, you know, hey, this is--this is not good. And so I go and I start filling out this--and I--in the meantime, I called my husband [Bennie Williams, Jr.] saying, "Hey, go turn on the television." I called back to my office and said, "You guys need to go next door to the conference room, turn the television on, a plane just flew into the side of, you know, one of the buildings at the World Trade Center." And then I go to filling out my form. And at the same time with the ear on the television, and you hear, "Oh, my God, oh, my God. Here comes another one." Right. And that was where we witnessed on television a second plane flying into the second building. Right. And you're thinking, like, this is probably not a good time to be in a government facility or government building right now, right. But operations continued. This was a short--this was just an annual checkup. I wasn't getting any dental work done. So it's like, okay, let me get this out of the way so I can get back to my building. So I--and I was talking to the dentist, and I'm like, "You know, all right, I think, you know, that this is, you know deliberate. I think that there are more buildings that probably are going to come under attack," not knowing that the Pentagon was a target, right. "And it probably would be a good idea to evacuate government facilities right now." And he's like, "You think so?" (laughs). Yeah. I was like, "Yeah, I think so. Right. I was like, "Well, hurry up so I can get out of here." Right. So we finish up my appointment, and I'm headed back out, and there's a nurse running down the hall, it's like, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God. You guys didn't hear." And I said, "Hear what?" Because the dental clinic is kind of underground, right, in the Pentagon, so you wouldn't hear what happens on the other side of the building. And she says, "We're evacuating the building." I'm like, okay. Good idea. I was like, well, let me go back to my office 'cause my cell phone is there, my purse is there. All I had was my Pentagon badge, right, you know, no head gear or nothing, right, 'cause I was in the--I'm in the building. All right. So I get ready to go back out and the Security Guard is saying, "Nope. Everybody go this way." Right. "Go this way." And, you know, at this time, I'm still thinking we're evacuating because of a precaution. And then there was this lady runs by me and she is like, you know, smoke, right, the clothes are dirty and the whole works, and she's hyperventilating, and I'm like, you know, "What just happened?" And she says, a bomb went off on the other side of the building." Right. Right. So that was my first indication that the Pentagon had actually been hit as we were exiting the building, right.