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Diversity program honors Tuskegee Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Greg Nash
  • 23 Wing Public Affairs

Approximately 100 10-19-year-olds took to the Valdosta skies to commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the historic Tuskegee Airmen during the Eyes Above the Horizon diversity outreach program, July 22, in Valdosta, Ga.

The program is designed to instill ambition amongst minority youths to achieve higher accomplishments and consider military careers within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical fields.

 “In honor of the Tuskegee Airmen and their legacy of breaking color barriers, Eyes Above the Horizon focuses on mentoring and familiarizing underrepresented minorities with basic flying fundamentals,” said Maj. Aaron Jones, 81st Fighter Squadron AAF flight commander and EAH event coordinator.

“The program’s three-tier structure raises aviation awareness, orientates the students with hands-on piloting experience and prepares them to reach new heights by applying the learned principles,” Jones added. “It’s important to give kids an opportunity to engage in aviation environments with people that resemble themselves, and the Legacy Flight Academy provides that needed representation and mentorship.”

The LFA launched the program in 2012 in hopes to counter the lack of programs that introduces certain demographics to the aviation world.  According to Jones, this underrepresentation is partly why African-Americans make up less than 2 percent of the commercial and military pilot industry in the United States, which is significantly less than Tuskegee Airmen more than 70 years ago.

During this year’s outreach efforts, Valdosta Regional Airport welcomed approximately 30 Airmen and other agencies to mentor the youth on character development, collegiate and career education opportunities.

As the participating students explored the education and recruitment booths, a team-building exercise station and aircraft, every student received a STEM briefing from one of Team Moody’s own.

“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are extremely important in both the Air Force and the civilian sector,” said Maj. Sherrod Brown, 23d Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering flight commander. “[STEM] solutions are required to find innovative ways to get the mission done with less resources such as budget or manning constraints, particularly in the Air Force.

As a Bioenvironmental Engineer, Brown conducts health risk assessment recommendations to control health hazards in base workplaces. He said that if a health hazard can be engineered out of an industrial process, then that’s an optimum solution. However, although an engineering solution may not exist, innovative individuals with STEM backgrounds can design new solutions to existing problems.

Additionally, Brown articulated that Eyes Above the Horizon similarly counters long-standing and current difficulties with its new approaches. He said its ability to reach the youth without a military background is a huge advantage.

“Children who don’t have a parent affiliated with the military may never get introduced to aviation and Air Force careers without this program,” said Brown. “While the goal is to have maximum participation for youth interested, if only one kid is impacted and pursues their interest in Air Force aviation or STEM opportunities, then count it a success.

“I would have loved to be introduced to a program such as [Eyes Above the Horizon] as an adolescent,” Brown added. “Role models are formed from events such as this, which is a good alternative versus the athletes and entertainers that youth aspire to be today.”

Landing on the runway after channeling their pilot aspirations, the awestruck students geared up to apply their lessons learned and share their experiences. Before they could follow in the footsteps of the Tuskegee Airmen, the event’s guest speaker, Lt. Col. Charles Gilliam, 48th Flying Training Squadron commander, Columbus AFB, Miss., concluded the event by relaying to the students that the sky is the limit.

“It’s extremely important to know, live and grow the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Gilliam. “By knowing our history, we ensure a bright future for our nation, especially the young people in our communities. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics stimulate innovation across the full spectrum in America and around the world.

“We encourage the youth to pursue these challenging career fields to not only increase the quality of life for individuals and their family, but to also help strengthen our nation.,” Gilliam added. “This event has reinforced legacy values of the Tuskegee Airmen. By coming out today, you all have shown your loyalty, excellence and goals necessary to have the winning attitude, courage and integrity to accomplish the mission. Continue the tradition and long live the legacy.”