Tuskegee Airmen Deploying to Iraq
The Tuskegee Airmen, now in their 80s, have been reconstituted for duty in Iraq.
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 Ã¢€” a city ravaged by roadside bombs and insurgent activity Ã¢€” 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 Ã¢€” five pilots, a mechanic and a supply officer Ã¢€” 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.”
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.