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

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid