Tuskegee Airmen Deploying to Iraq

The Tuskegee Airmen, now in their 80s, have been reconstituted for duty in Iraq.

Tuskegee Airmen Suit Up, Head to Iraq (AP)

Lt. Col. Herbert Carter is 86 years old and ready for deployment. More than 60 years after his World War II tour with the pioneering black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, Carter’s new mission will be shorter, though no less courageous. Carter is one of seven aging Tuskegee Airmen traveling this weekend to Balad, Iraq — a city ravaged by roadside bombs and insurgent activity — to inspire a younger generation of airmen who carry on the traditions of the storied 332nd Fighter Group. “I don’t think it hurts to have someone who can empathize with them and offer them encouragement,” he said.

The three-day visit was put together by officials with the U.S. Central Command Air Forces to link the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen with a new generation. “This group represents the linkage between the ‘greatest generation’ of airmen and the ‘latest generation’ of airmen,” said Lt. Gen. Walter Buchanan III, commander of the Air Forces command, in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

The retired Airmen who will make the trip — five pilots, a mechanic and a supply officer — shrugged off the dangers of Iraq, saying they have stared down the enemy before. Some fought in Korea and Vietnam as well as World War II.

Current members of the 332nd, redesignated as the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group in 1998, include men and women of different backgrounds and races. But the black retirees said they are thrilled that a group still fights within their 332nd lineage, regardless of skin color. “I’m proud they’re in a unit carrying our name,” said Charles McGee, 82, a retired colonel whose 409 combat missions is an Air Force record. “That’s very meaningful from the heritage point of view.”

First the Band of Brothers, now the Tuskegee Airmen. I knew we were having recruiting troubles, but this is ridiculous. The Navajo Wind Talkers and Private Ryan are probably next.

Seriously, though, this is a noble gesture on the part of the Airmen, especially considering how these men were treated during their first tour of duty. It’s the rare octogenarian indeed who is willing to take such extreme personal risk to boost the morale of our troops. The troops will certainly get a big kick out of seeing these guys, who I’m sure will be given the heroes’ welcome they deserve.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Race and Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

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  1. James Joyner says:

    332nd Air Expeditionary Group [332th AEG]

    The 332nd Air Expeditionary Group “The Tip of the Spear” was activated at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait in November 1998, replacing the 4406th Operations Group (Provisional) at first only in name. But since then, its mission has evolved and grown to reflect the EAF concept of a consolidated force in a forward location. The package includes F-15E’s or Block 40 F-16s, the A-10s and the F-16CJs. That mix of aircraft, including HH-60 rescue helicopters, gives the 332nd the ability to conduct any Operation Southern Watch mission. The AEG’s population turns over almost completely every 120 days, and the fighter squadrons change every 45 days. With a population of 1,400 people constantly rotating, there is a need for continuity to guide the base and mission. The US compound at Al Jaber is a sandy “fortress” less than a mile in circumference. Most people live in dorms — 12-monthers get their own rooms — and the base has far more comforts than expected of a deployed location.