Tuskegee Airmen honored at 2009 National Convention

  • Published
  • By Captain Tyrone Bess
  • 56th Security Forces Squadron
Imagine being the only person of your ethnic background in a class of hundreds
who refuse to speak or acknowledge your existence because you are different. 

Imagine scoring top marks on all your exams, only to retest, because people
above you did not believe you were capable of achieving passing results. 

Imagine knowing you are smart enough to accomplish any task at hand but not
afforded the opportunity to demonstrate your worth. 

Those and many other obstacles were daily encounters for the men and women
known as the Tuskegee Airmen. 

Recently 60 Airmen from Luke Air Force Base attended the 2009 Tuskegee Airmen
National Convention in Las Vegas, where the theme was, "honoring our hero's,
past, present and future." The convention reinforced the importance of
learning, knowing and understanding the contributions and legacy of the
Tuskegee Airmen and their impact on American history. 

Members of the 56th Fighter Wing were exposed to numerous firsts, as well as
knowledge-filled panels that included perspectives from senior officers and
enlisted members, diversity in the military, the impact of aviation on today's
youth and general question-and-answer sessions. 

However, perhaps the most significant experience was the personal interactions
our Airmen had with the original racial desegregation and civil rights
pioneers - documented original Tuskegee Airmen. 

DOTA, as original members are known, are those Airmen who served from 1941
through 1948. Although their journey started on an airfield in Tuskegee, Ala.,
it is important to note that not every DOTA was an aviator. DOTAs included an
entire military generation - maintainers, medical and security personnel,
logisticians, engineers and all career fields in between. Much of the focus
concerning DOTAs has been around aerial achievements; however, after attending
the conference, I have a new appreciation for all who were there during that
important time in history and who we read about today. 

During the conference, Luke Airmen witnessed history as the first
African-American female pilot was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
We were able to meet the first African-American female pilots in the Coast
Guard, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. We ate lunch with the youngest person
to solo fly an aircraft cross-country and her sister who received her pilot's
license on her 17th birthday and certified on six different aircraft the same

Our Airmen were exposed to the importance aviation played in desegregation. We
heard how the Tuskegee Airmen were equal, and in some cases above, in their
performance to other American aviators. This demonstration of their
capabilities helped pave the way for desegregation in the military and
civilian society. 

Following the convention theme, Luke Airmen started their historical passage
into the past by honoring Tuskegee Airmen who are no longer present during a
Lonely Eagles ceremony. As the events shifted to the present, military members
were recognized for their contributions during an awards ceremony. Finally,
the events concluded with a youth extravaganza where members of the 56th
Fighter Wing interacted with the next generation of aviators, doctors,
attorneys and military members. 

The Tuskegee Airmen stood up to segregation when it was unpopular, rose above
Jim Crow laws in the south, demonstrated that people can do anything they
desire; all they need is an opportunity and an equal playing field.
In a conversation with a DOTA, I was told, "things we experience in life,
good, bad or indifferent, are not for us; they are for those who come after

As you sit in your work place, take a moment; examine the men and women of
various ethnicities and backgrounds in your organization. Understand they are
there, performing on an equal playing field because of the contributions,
sacrifices and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.