Fairfield to the front lines: Honoring Air Force heritage

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joey Swafford
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
On an average day, 25 mobility aircraft depart Travis Air Force Base, California, the busiest aerial port on the West Coast. Situated outside of Fairfield, its aircraft depart for destinations around the world, and from Feb. 23 to 28, 2018, one of those aircraft had something unique about it.

The aircraft was a C-5M Super Galaxy assigned to the 22nd Airlift Squadron, and its 11-person crew was all African-American. This historic mission was created to honor the heritage of the Tuskegee Airmen and to showcase the capability of Travis AFB to deliver cargo from the U.S. to the front lines in Afghanistan.

The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. They proved that African-Americans could fly and maintain sophisticated combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen’s achievements, together with the men and women who supported them, paved the way for full integration of the U.S. military, according to Tuskegeeairmen.org.

“I feel extremely honored and thankful to be a part of this crew,” said Capt. Dariel Baker, 22nd AS C-5M pilot. “The Tuskegee Airmen and many others fought hard to establish a place for African-Americans in aviation. They suffered through discrimination in a time where support for African-Americans in aviation was not high, so I have a lot of respect for them enduring the hardships to pave the way for me and those after me.”

This flight was historic since it was the first time an all African-American C-5M crew was formed to honor the heritage of the Tuskegee Airmen and highlight the diversity of the Air Force.

“It is important that the Air Force is diverse enough to have an all African-American crew because it shows how far the Air Force has come in relation to diversity and acceptance,” said Baker. “While we still have farther to go, it is a significant milestone that should be shared as it generates pride not only for those involved, but for everyone who is happy to see our progress as an Air Force.”

The capability to have an all African-American crew shows the Air Force is capable of creating an environment where people can come from any background or way of life and contribute to the mission, said Senior Airman Mikkah Marcellus, 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-5M flying crew chief.

“Having such a diverse Air Force allows us to continue to evolve and come up with new ideas from many different points of view,” said Marcellus.

Not only did the mission honor Air Force heritage, it showcased how Air Mobility Command aircraft provide rapid global mobility by delivering 82,000 pounds of Army cargo to Afghanistan.

“In Air Mobility Command we are always ready to deliver,” said Tech. Sgt. Meco Morales, 22nd AS C-5M flight engineer. “As individuals, its our responsibility to maintain our currency and readiness. This mission was only possible because we were prepared and ready not only to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, but to serve our great nation and support our brothers and sisters in harm's way.”

The capability to deliver anywhere around the world at any time is a reality due to a team effort by Travis AFB Airmen.

“We wouldn't get out of the home station without the maintainers doing their best to keep the aircraft operating or life support providing working gear and equipment,” said Baker. “There are many agencies crucial to helping us get the mission done and being on the same page is vital to completing the mission.”

The crew was motivated knowing that its cargo would go from the U.S. and the next day, it would be on the front lines in Afghanistan supporting the warfighters.

“It’s a feeling of accomplishment and pride,” said Morales. “When you see your cargo load, it motivates you. From delivering Navy Seals, tanks, helicopters and bombs, you know that people are counting on you and you don't want to let them down.”

“It amazes me every time we fly how we can rapidly bring anything directly to the warfighters on the frontline that they might need when it could take weeks or longer by any other means,” said Baker.

Throughout the six-day trip, the crew was taken aback by all the support it received on social media and also from the ground crews at the different stops.

“For me, the highlight of this mission was seeing the amount of support from not only the African-American community, but also other peers at all our different stops,” said Baker. “Not only did the crew seem to have added pride, but so did multiple support agencies on the road. There was genuine excitement from people just wanting to witness a little bit of history, even if they weren't a part of the crew. The crew has been honored to see the joy we could bring to others.”

“It was humbling to have people that wanted to take pictures with us,” said Marcellus. “How excited they were opened my eyes to how much something like this mission can impact others and even myself, for that matter.”

While most on social media were supportive of the heritage flight and the 11 Airmen, there were some who didn’t understand the importance of what the crew was accomplishing and how it highlighted diversity in the Air Force.

“I think the only obstacle we somewhat ran into was on social media where people had made negative comments about what we were doing,” said Marcellus. “We talked about it as a crew and just let each other know we had each other's backs and the people supporting us outweighed the people being negative.”

To make the crew work, they needed to de-conflict schedules and the team had the full support of its leadership at Travis AFB.

“Fortunately, we have great leadership in the 22nd AS and a culture of acceptance," said Baker. “This year is the first time we had enough people to generate a fully augmented crew, which is necessary for a combat mission. The barriers to making this happen were just coordinating a time when everyone could be available between other training events, leave and other obligations.”

Through the successful six-day mission, the crew hopes it made a lasting impact on others.

“I hope to help inspire future generations of aviators,” said Baker. “I hope that they see that it doesn't have to be a dream to be an African-American in aviation because they can see someone that looks like them doing it.”

“I believe in the phrase that ‘someone is always watching,' and with that, I strive to represent myself and the Air Force in a positive image,” said Morales.

He went on to add that he had his young son and nephews watching him. Morales wants them and any other young child to know they can do anything they want regardless of race or sex. Just put their mind to it. If they fall, get back up and understand that there is a failure before success never give up.

Even though this C-5M crew wears flight suits, not capes or masks, they have provided hope to a future generation of aviators and are real-life superheroes.