Joint Base Charleston, S.C. –
More than 150 middle and high school boys from 17 Lowcountry schools attended the second annual Tuskegee Airmen Career Day Feb. 23, 2017, at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.
The boys toured the inside of a C-17 Globemaster III, visited the 373rd Training Squadron facilities, and participated in a career fair at Nose Dock 2 on the flight line. Students were able to see the Military Working Dogs up-close, try on a 90-pound explosive ordnance disposal bomb suit, and learn about more than 15 different civilian and military career fields.
The Tuskegee Airmen Career Day was created in the spirit of the Women in Aviation Career Day, which has been held at Joint Base Charleston for nearly a decade for local schoolgirls.
For many, it was the opportunity to speak with two original Tuskegee Airmen that was the most rewarding event of the day. (Ret.) Lt. Col. Enoch “Woody” Woodhouse and Dr. Eugene Richardson, Jr., both original Tuskegee Airmen, attended the career day and made themselves available to the students.
“I’m here tell our story to the students, and I'm here for the ones that couldn’t be… they’re the real heroes,” said Woodhouse. “(The real heroes were the fallen Tuskegee Airmen) who were shot down in combat, giving their lives believing that excellence in performance will always trump indifference.”
The Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group gained notoriety as the first African American fighter pilots during World War II, identified in the sky by the red colored tails on their aircraft. While escorting bombers, they participated in some of the most iconic battles of the war along the Italian peninsula, including the invasion of Salerno, and the battles of Montecassino and Rome before they moved onto the South of France, the Balkans, and finally Germany.
Their actions, during more than 15,500 combat sorties, earned them more than 95 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
At the time, they were young African American males fighting on foreign lands for the freedoms of a nation. Meanwhile, many of those same freedoms still escaped them back home. Nevertheless, they served their country with honor, pride, and became some of the greatest figures in U.S. Air Force history.
“We’re here to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the difficulties we overcame,” said Richardson, the morning of the Career Day in Charleston. “We want to encourage young people to push forward, have faith, and head for success.”
Not only were The Tuskegee Airmen an inspiration to the local youth, but also many of the Airmen in attendance. One of those Airmen was Maj. Anthony Pierce, 89th Airlift Squadron C-17 instructor, who traveled from Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to be the guest speaker for the day’s events.
“The Tuskegee Airmen have been an inspiration to me since middle school,” said Pierce. “I knew I wanted to be a pilot, and my career progression started after hearing their story.”
As a country, Pierce admits we still have many obstacles to overcome in 2017. However, his hope is that the story of The Tuskegee Airmen and the challenges they overcame 75 years earlier will continue to inspire young people the way it inspired him early in his life.
Today, Pierce has volunteered nearly 15 years to educating young people on aviation careers and continues following his dream as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, like his heroes did so many years before.
“This event gives students (in the Charleston community) more than motivation,” said Pierce. “It brings exposure to show them the careers that are out there, and what they can do with their lives.”