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First and Only African American Woman USAF U-2 Pilot
Competitor, Season 2 of CBS' "Tough as Nails"
Colonel Merryl Tengesdal (ret.) is the first and only African American woman to fly the United States Air Force’s U-2 “Dragon Lady” high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. As a former Naval Aviator and Air Force Combat Pilot, Merryl has been deployed worldwide supporting combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and military operations in South America, the Caribbean, and the Horn of Africa. Since her retirement, Tengesdal has become a highly sought-after motivational speaker for industry, non-profit organizations and educational institutions on a wide range of topics that share a common theme of overcoming adversity. She shares her experiences and insights on leadership as a woman and person of color in spaces where women and people of color are underrepresented, maximizing physical and mental health, and applying military leadership to business enterprises and everyday life. Tengesdal has a keen interest in promoting efforts to increase women and children of color in STEM.
Tengesdal has extensive command and senior leadership experience including Deputy Operations Group Commander and Inspector General for the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Director of Operations and Commander for the 9th Physiological Support Squadron. As the first female selected to be Commander of Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Detachment 2 at Palmdale, CA, she led the oversight of a multi-billion-dollar depot-level maintenance, repair, and developmental testing program for the U-2. She retired in 2017 from the Pentagon in her last assignment as the Director of Inspections for the Air Force Inspector General, where she oversaw USAF’s conventional, nuclear and special access inspections program for 860,000 Airmen.
Tengesdal is a Reality Television Star, starring on season 2 of CBS’s uplifting, competition show Tough as Nails (2021) and promotes increased minority involvement in the Trades. She has also appeared as a commentator on PBS’s UNLADYLIKE2020: The Bessie Coleman Story (2020) and as a technical consultant to Steven Spielberg on Bridge of Spies (2015).
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