“Checking Six” from the Cockpit of an F-16“
By: 2Lt Kenyatta H. Ruffin, USAFA ’03
The Tuskegee Airmen “experiment” began in July, 1941 when the first class of cadets began training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. Less than one year later, General Lloyd “Fig” Newton was born in June, 1942 in South Carolina. The “Red Tailed Angels” first combat missions were flown in February, 1944. In June 1966, Colonel Fredrick Gregory flew his first combat mission in Vietnam. Finally, in July 1948, the military was “officially” desegregated when President Truman signed Executive Order Number 9981. And finally, as a result of these events and through the blood, sweat and tears of these men, on April 25, 2005 I passed my initial qualification checkride and became an official F-16 Viper pilot.
As we all know, the Tuskegee Airmen “experiment” was a huge success and directly contributed to General Newton becoming the first African-American to be a member of the USAF Thunderbirds and Colonel Gregory to be the first African-American to command the space shuttle… and me? Only God knows what the future has in store, but I can certainly say that whatever success I may have and whatever achievements I have already attained, I owe my unending gratitude and appreciation to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The brave men and women of the Tuskegee Airmen endured the hardships and overcame the obstacles they did to pave the way for you and for me. They were denied entrance into the officer’s club, even though they were commissioned United States Military Officers. They were forced to train well above and beyond the standards in place for the “regular” military. Although their success was undeniable, their recognition was often officially absent or “lost” as was the case at the 1949 National Fighter Gunnery Meet at Nellis AFB, NV.
Constantly I am reminded of the legacy that we now stand upon. I think of the great men that have gone before me and am humbled. Lee Archer, Charles Williams, Buck Newsum, John Mosley, Roy Chappell, and Chappie James. “Competence, courage, commitment, and capacity” certainly do describe these men. It is their “integrity, service, and excellence” that inspires me every day
- Everyone in the Tuskegee Airmen – pilots, instructors, mechanics, and supply officers alike – all paved the way for integration of the military and have truly set an example for us to follow. Let us not be slow, blind, or discouraged in keeping their legacy alive. They “accepted the challenge,” served their country with distinction, and set the standard. Now, we not only owe them our admiration, we owe them the same commitment to duty that they showed. NASA astronaut Colonel Yvonne Cagle said it best, “Are you ready to put your best to the test?”
Excerpts from the Tuskegee Airmen Induction Ceremony – speech given by Gen Hal Hornburg (some reasons why we need to either become a part of or continue being a part of the Tuskegee Airmen and other minority-empowering groups like WLC Alumni etc..)
- Not Enough Black Aviators
The challenge we face in the Air Force right now is we don’t have enough black aviators …
Last month at the 32nd Annual Tuskegee Airmen Conference, General Lester Lyles addressed this same issue
I agree with his concernsIn WWII we trained 992 pilots at Tuskegee, 450 of whom were sent overseas for combat assignmen
Today we have only 490 black aviators in our Air Force … only about 2.5 percent of total Air Force aviators … not enough, because we’re a better organization if we have sharp people from many backgrounds
- When I was Commander of A-E-T-C a couple of years ago, briefed this same topic at CORONA … and it is still a challenge we continue to work todayThe Tuskegee Airmen help with this challenge … strong local chapters with strong outreach programs can and do make a differenceThough they may not realize it, the young men and women that get to meet and be mentored by some of the original Tuskegee Airmen are lucky
- It is not very often that we get to interact directly with those that made history
- Just think if we could talk to some of our leaders from the Revolutionary War .. Meeting and talking to an original Tuskegee Airmen is on that level … In a few decades, there won’t be any original Tuskegee Airmen alive …We need to take advantage of these opportunities when we can … and encourage participation in their chapters and programs
- The Tuskegee Airmen mentor, lead and coach young men and women into our Air Force … and not just all black men and women either
- It is our job to carry the torch and develop them into long term successes The Tuskegee Airmen did it by example … and now they motivate with just their presence Annual ConferencAt their 32nd Annual convention last month in Denver the Tuskegee Airmen focused on a couple of important issuesMoving ahead to the futureEstablishing a national youth program to inspire, motivate and assist minority youth towards military, aviation and aerospace careersI’m excited to know there are independent organizations like the Tuskegee Airmen doing so much for our Air ForceYou probably didn’t know that since 1978, the Tuskegee Airmenhave awarded over 1.7 million dollars in scholarships…. that’s a lot of education Our Air Force has similar goals of looking ahead to the future and cultivating our youth I’m proud to now be a part the Tuskegee Airmen because of these shared goalsI will continue the fight as long as I wear this uniform to support our Air Force and the diverse airmen that make it the world’s best