Tuskegee Airmen reflect Air Force heritage

  • Published
  • By Maj. James E. Davis, 22nd Contracting Squadron
  • and 1st Lt. Sean V. Orme, 344th Air Refueling Squadron
On Sept. 18 we will celebrate 60 event-filled years of unrivaled air and space power. To paraphrase Brig. Gen. Janet Therianos, director of the 60th Anniversary office at the Pentagon, this commemoration is what our Air Force is all about "... embracing our past and our present, and looking towards an exciting future." 

Just last month, representatives from across our wing, including Tech. Sgt. ToRhonda Stults, 22nd Comptroller Squadron; Staff Sgt. Damian T. McCall, 22nd Maintenance Operations Squadron; and Staff Sgt. Kendall E. Mack, 22nd Medical Support Squadron, had the distinct honor of embracing our past while rubbing shoulders with some of the original Tuskegee Airmen at the 36th Annual Convention held at Gaylord, Texas. These aviation giants (officer and enlisted) reminded us about our rich Air Force Heritage by sharing their life experiences as they soared the skies during World War II and made the indelible contribution of standing the line to secure our American freedoms while serving the nation they love. 

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one of courage, struggle, triumph and above all the unwavering hope and faith that our country would become what the founding fathers had always knew it could be. These determined young men and women enlisted in the Army Air Corps to become America's first black military Airmen, at a time when there were many people who thought that blacks lacked intelligence, skill, courage and patriotism. 

While carrying the burden of fighting two wars - one against a military force overseas and the other against racism at home and abroad, these dedicated Airmen accepted the challenge to paved the way at turning their adversity and obstacles into opportunities, which inspired revolutionary reform in the armed forces. 

In addition to every pilot who flew the P-40 Tomahawk, P-51 Mustang and B-25 Mitchell aircraft, there were 12 other civilian and military men and women performing ground support duties to keep these aviators airborne. These Tuskegee Airmen knew they had to be twice as competent, knowledgeable and motivated as the next guy. This prevailing attitude permeated throughout their contributions under the 332nd Fighter Group allowing America to destroy many enemy targets on the ground and at sea, including a German destroyer, and enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground. 

As a result of this outstanding performance, pilots came home with 150 Distinguishing Flying Crosses, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Legions of Merit, two Presidential Unit Citations and, on March 29, 2007, the Congressional Gold Medal. 

The obvious sensitivity of race relations for these men and women coupled with the birth of our independent Air Force in 1947 gave a new beginning to how our American society embraced integration, which set the stage for diversity. Under this context of change, the Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated hosted its annual convention to continue the golden legacy and highlighted a broad spectrum of issues concerning status of forces, women in the military, aviation expertise, supported/non-rated perspectives, community outreach, and leadership (officer and enlisted mentoring) all relevant to the transformational challenges our today's Air Force. 

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, summarized the Tuskegee Airmen accomplishments by focusing on their vision, the way they encouraged change, and the way they empowered values. 

General Schwartz said as leaders, these men and women had the vision to see the possibility of situations while others were seeing limitations. They knew the power of change and understood how leaders must take responsibility and let others make excuses. On a final note, he expressed how these Airmen's values and self-esteem were the weapons of choice that fueled their determination to never give up or settle for anything less than excellence. 

Given the geopolitical climate of our society coupled with the determination of our enemies, whether it is al-Qaida in the mountains of Pakistan or a nation like North Korea, we must lead with the same visionary spirit and courage as our Tuskegee Airmen to ensure the continued security of our great democracy while fulfilling the dreams that any member of our society can reach their full potential.
As we reflect upon the contributions of these heroes, who gave us many reasons to celebrate a rich Air Force heritage, recognize its now our turn to answer the call and make the difference.