Wolf Pack honors trailblazers during Black History Month

  • Published
  • By Capt. K. Paige Hankerson
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

For 48 years, the second month of every year has been allocated to recognize, honor, and celebrate Black History and the contributions African Americans have made to the intricate fabric of the United States of America.

Originally only a week long, President Gerald R. Ford extended the observance to all 28 days of the month in 1976, calling upon the American public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Quickly, abolitionist Frederick Douglas, legends of the 1960s Civil Rights movement like Martin Luther King Jr, and scientists like George Washington Carver became popular figures at the center of Black History Month discussions. Soon, African American ‘firsts’ and advancements in various fields began to receive overdue recognition.

Since 1976, the deterioration of social and legal limitations spanned all facets of the American way of life, and military service was no different. In 1948, when President Truman integrated the Armed Forces, African American service members in pioneering units such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company could serve in new capacities.

Remarkable African American Airmen have always lined the pages of U.S. Air Force history; many were brought together before the obstacle of segregation was removed, and most after. Many of these Airmen and their stories could never be separated from the foundation of the force as it is today.

Left to right and top to bottom:

2nd Lt. Eugene Bullard – Bullard was the world’s 1st African American fighter pilot, flying Spad 7 C.1s in World War I. While his service predates the creation of the U.S. Air Force and flew for another Allied country (he joined the French Aéronautique Militaire), the Georgia native laid the stepping stones for African American pilots years after his service. On September 14, 1994, Bullard was posthumously commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.

Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. – James became the 1st African American 4-star general in the U.S. Armed Forces. A fighter pilot who served in three wars and overcame many obstacles, including racism and segregation, James became a skilled tactician in combat and a legendary leader.

** In 1967, James was deployed to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, for the Vietnam War, where he was named vice commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing and led along then-Col. Robin Olds. James flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam and helped Olds to lead Operation Bolo in January 1967, which is now considered one of the greatest air battles of the war. He was the original “Wolf 2!” WOLF PACK!

Brig. Gen. Charles McGee – As a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, McGee was one of the USAF’s first African American aviators and served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War until the end of his 30-year career in 1973. During his service, McGee earned a Distinguished Flying Cross; in retirement, he, along with the other Tuskegee Airmen, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom, and in 2020, McGee was promoted to Brigadier General for all of his significant contributions to the United States.

Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes – Barnes became the 1st African American Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force in 1973 and the 1st African American Senior Enlisted Advisor of any of the U.S. Armed Forces. Barnes was an adviser to the Secretaries of the Air Force, John L. McLucas and Thomas C. Reed, and also to Chief of Staffs of the Air Force Gen. George S. Brown and Gen. David C. Jones, on matters concerning welfare, effective utilization, and progress of the enlisted members of the Air Force; only the fourth chief master sergeant appointed to this to the highest non-commissioned officer position.

Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers Sr. – Flowers is the U.S. Air Force’s longest-serving Airman and the Department of Defense’s longest-serving African American, retiring in 2012 after 46 years of active-duty service. Flowers commissioned as a Finance Officer in 1978 and retired as the Headquarters Air Force’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, managing over $119B in funds.

Maj. Charles “Buster” Hall – 1st African American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the first African American to earn official credit for destroying an enemy aircraft in World War II. He was among the first 43 African American volunteer pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen, assigned to the Army Air Corps' 332nd Fighter Group in 1943.

Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright – Wright was the 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (2017-2020), where he successfully advocated and reformed the USAF on behalf of its enlisted personnel. Wright was only the 2nd African American appointed to the highest non-commissioned officer position.

Lt. Col. Christina Hopper – Flying more than 50 combat sorties during Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom in 2002-2003, Hopper became the 1st African American USAF female fighter pilot to fight in a major war. Separating from active duty in 2008 with almost 1,000 hours in the F-16, Hopper still serves the Air Force Reserve as a T-38 Instructor Pilot, training the next generation of fighter and bomber pilots.

Gen. CQ Brown Jr. – In 2020, Brown was sworn in as the 22nd US Air Force Chief of Staff, making him the 1st African American to lead a United States Armed Forces branch. In 2023, Brown continued to ascend and break barriers, becoming the first African American to become the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, the highest-ranking general in the U.S. military.

**Brown was a fighter pilot assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing’s 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1987 and later returned to the 8th FW as “Wolf 46” (the wing commander) in 2007. WOLF PACK!

Gen. Marcelite Harris – Blazing a trail as the Air Force’s first female maintenance officer, Harris became the 1st African American female general officer in 1991. Retiring as a major general in 1997, she was the highest-ranking female officer in the Air Force and the US Armed Forces’ highest-ranking African American woman on record.

Col. Guion Bluford – Bluford was not only a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, logging over 5,200 hours in the T-33, T-37, T-38, F-4C, U-2/TR-1, and F-5A/B aircraft but he was selected to become a NASA astronaut in 1978. In August of 1983, Bluford became the 1st African American to launch into space on NASA’s STS-8 mission.

Gen. Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. – Davis was the U.S. Air Force’s 1st African American General Officer, pinning on his first star in 1954. As a Lt. Col. in 1943, Davis commanded the 99th Pursuit Squadron – Army Air Corps’ first entirely African American air unit– before organizing the 332nd Fighter Group, historically known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

It is on the shoulders of giants like these men and women that the African American Airmen of the U.S. Air Force stand today. In line with President Ford’s original intent and call to action, the Wolf Pack views Black History Month as the opportunity for all to learn, understand, and build upon their contributions that enabled us to operate in such a diverse force today.