News / USA

US Fighter Pilot Draws Inspiration From Tuskegee Airmen

Kane Farabaugh

Before World War II, African Americans were not allowed to pilot aircraft in the U.S. military. Racism prevented them from serving equally with their white counterparts. But a group known as the Tuskegee Airmen helped to tear down racial barriers and paved the way for desegregation of the armed forces in 1948 and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Despite those accomplishments, there are fewer African Americans serving similar combat roles in today’s U.S. Air Force.

The exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all black fighter squadron, went largely unnoticed during and after World War II.

“The information about the pilots in the news was a big secret as far as this country was concerned,” said Beverly Dunjill, a Tuskegee Airman.

Despite the lack of recognition, Dunjill and other pilots broke the “color barrier” in the U.S. military.  

Inspiring younger generations

Their stories motivated youth like Kenyatta Ruffin, who, generations later, pursued a career in the armed forces.

“I vowed to conduct my life and to strive for excellence in the same manner they did,” said Ruffin.

After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Ruffin became an F-16 fighter pilot.  

During a combat deployment to Iraq, fate brought him closer to the men he idolized.

“I landed at Balad Air Base in Iraq. And Balad was the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, which is a direct legacy to the same unit as the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen. So no kidding, I was a member of the same unit as the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Ruffin.

Reaching new heights

It was a bittersweet moment for Ruffin, the only African American pilot assigned to the wing at the time.

“In most of the units I’ve been in, I’ve been the only African American pilot,” he said.

Ruffin is one of 45 African American fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force.  

That is 1.4 percent of all fighter pilots in the Air Force - far fewer than the number who served during the Second World War, when nearly 1,000 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in the southern state of Alabama.

“It’s an atrocious statistic, especially if you consider that we want to be representative of society, and the black population in America is anywhere between 10 and 12 percent,” said Ruffin.

Achieving excellence

Ruffin said the disparity is not due to racism.

“The issue is there is not enough exposure to it," he said. "The popular media, you’re filled with basketball players, football players, rappers, and your not exposed to the likes of the Tuskegee Airmen, who lived their lives with excellence, with character and competence.”

At a theater in Chicago, after watching the movie Red Tails that dramatizes the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen, Ruffin used the film as a way to increase exposure to his own life as an aviator.

He said the words of the first African American to rise to the rank of a four-star general, Daniel James, Jr., rings true when he talks to young people.

“He says ‘The power of excellence is overwhelming. It is always in demand, and nobody cares about its color.’ And that’s the truth,” said Ruffin.

The U.S. Air Force also has a motto for this - “Aim High.”

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs