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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid