Airmen assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing take great pride in the heritage created for them by the Tuskegee Airmen. Today a key piece of the wing’s history has once again returned to its flightline. The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen was born in Montgomery, Alabama, when the Tuskegee Institute’s application to conduct civilian pilot training was approved by the Civil Aeronautics Administration in autumn of 1939. About one year later President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration announced the Army Air Corps would begin training black military pilots, and the place to do it was Tuskegee, Alabama. So began the storied history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Flying their P-51 Mustangs, with tails painted bright red, the Airmen fought valiantly through World War II under the crest of the 332nd Fighter Group.
Now more than 75 years later, a red-tailed fighter jet from Montgomery again flies with the 332nd. The lineage of the Tuskegee Airmen has been passed to Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing. An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the unit is currently flying with the 134th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is one of the squadrons assigned to the 332nd AEW. “It is well documented that our WWII bomber pilots would look out their windows and gain confidence from Red Tail fighters flying beside them. It has been stated they took comfort in knowing their chances for survival were higher with a Red Tail escort than from any other outfit in 12th and 15th Air Force,” said Col. David C. Lyons, 407th Air Expeditionary Group commander. “Now we have one of those Red Tails on our flight line, once again flying with the 332nd and creating the next chapter of Red Tail history.”
The mission of the unit is to support Operation Inherent Resolve in the fight against ISIS by providing air-to-ground combat airpower at the request of the Combined Joint Task Force commander. The 134th EFS has been heavily involved in the fight, flying more than 500 missions, delivering more than 800 weapons, and making significant contributions to the fight in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. “We are talking about liberating cities,” Lyons said. “That is something we haven’t talked about in this way since World War II.”
The Airmen of the 134th EFS flying the missions to liberate cities in Iraq and Syria are deployed from the Vermont Air National Guard. The red tail was provided to the Vermont ANG along with F-16s from the New Jersey and Wisconsin Air National Guards to ensure the squadron had enough capable aircraft to meet the short-notice deployment to support OIR. At least one Airman from the Vermont ANG takes a special amount of pride in seeing the red tail on the flightline with his unit. During a formal dinner hosted by the Vermont ANG, Chief Master Sgt. Brian Senecal, 407th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, had the opportunity to host Col. Charles McGee. McGee is one of the Tuskegee Airmen and also holds a U.S. Air Force record for flying 409 combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“Honestly it was the highlight of my whole military career to spend time with the guy – to meet someone who gave some much,” Senecal said. “Most Soldiers and Sailors were welcomed back from World War II with open arms and the Tuskegee Airmen had to come back to a still-segregated America.” Despite the discrimination the Tuskegee Airmen faced at the time, their trailblazing efforts have left a legacy of which all Airmen can be proud. “It is an honor to continue the tradition started by the original Tuskegee Airmen and to be carrying on their good name 75 years later,” Senecal said.