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4th Air Force Airmen mingle with heroes

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Zach Anderson
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs
Members of the 4th Air Force Human Resources Development Council had the opportunity to mingle with a collection of true American heroes while attending the 39th Annual Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Convention July 28-31 in San Antonio.

The yearly convention is held to provide an educational training and professional development experience for military members and civilians, as well as to honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.  The event featured several presentations by senior military leaders as well as discussion forums covering a wide array of topics ranging from leadership to career development and mentorship.

For those in attendance, the highlight of the convention was the presence of several original Tuskegee Airmen, the men and women who overcame struggles of racial segregation and prejudice to comprise the first African-American military aviation units, paving the way for racial integration in the U.S. military.

"It's a great opportunity for us in the Air Force, both active duty and Reserve, to interact with the living history of the Tuskegee Airmen," said Col. Abel Barrientes, 4th Air Force vice-commander.

"To understand and hear the stories of their successes, and the struggles they went through to achieve those successes, is inspirational to all of us."

In between the sessions, convention attendees had opportunities for informal, one-on-one discussions with these legendary Airmen. Additionally, the last day of the convention featured a public forum discussion and autograph session with several original Tuskegee Airmen. For those in attendance, these interactions with history left a powerful impression.

"It was awesome to hear about their struggles and triumphs. It's amazing to listen to these military legends talk about the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of their struggles and the war itself, and still talk about it with a smile! It was a true honor," said Senior Master Sgt. Al Rivera, 4th Air Force logistics resources.

"I've read Tuskegee Airmen stories in many books by as many authors," said Senior Master Sgt. Walter Leslie, 4th Air Force historian. "To hear their accomplishments from the men and women who did the deeds was unbelievable."

Colonel Barrientes pointed out that as time passes, it becomes more vital to make every effort to learn firsthand the Tuskegee Airmen story.

"As the original Airmen continue to age, we will not have these opportunities too much longer. It is incumbent upon us all to hear their story, to interact with them, and to tell their story. These opportunities are not going to be here forever."

Sergeant Leslie echoed those sentiments.

"The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a legacy we can't allow to diminish over time. It is our responsibility to ensure their accomplishments are not forgotten, but used to inspire the next generation of leaders."

The first class of Tuskegee Airmen pilots completed training at Tuskegee Army Air Field, Tuskegee, Ala., in March, 1942. Colonel Barrientes said that even sixty-eight years after this first class, the Tuskegee Airmen's story of overcoming adversity still provides motivation for excellence for all who serve in today's military.

"These are people we want to emulate. Despite all the trouble they had, they were great Americans. They will tell you how proud they were to serve America, despite how America treated them."

He continued, "As you dig into the history of their struggle you gain a better respect for what these gentlemen went through, the hardships they had to endure, and the success they achieved despite those hardships. We don't face those roadblocks anymore. If these individuals can do it despite all the negativity that was thrust upon them, that should motivate all of us in the Air Force to do our best."