States, installations, and individuals all celebrate Black History Month in their own way which honors what it means to them.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Airmen came together to celebrate and honor BHM by organizing a heritage air-refueling flight with Airmen from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware over the east coast, Feb. 13.
The KC-10 Extender assigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing was piloted by an all African-American crew from different airlift squadrons around the installation. The purpose of the heritage flight was to showcase the accomplishments African-American’s have made in the U.S. Air Force and to inspire others, not just African-Americans, to reach for what they may think is impossible.
“I want to make sure that anyone and everyone serving in the military knows they have the opportunity to experience the feeling of having an impact and making a difference,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Demetrius Thornton, 605th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron primary flying crew chief. “I want them to know they can be a part of change. That’s what this flight was about.”
U.S. Air Force Col. Adrian Byers, 514th Air Mobility Wing vice commander, piloted the KC-10 and spoke of previous heritage flights he had put together for a multitude of observances. Byers felt when military installations are able to put heritage flights together, it brings a sense of pride and remembrance of the legacy they came from.
“We make diversity what it is,” said Byers. “The military always talks about unity and morale – those things are color blind. As a service [though], we turn around and look for ways to include every single heritage that we have into an organization. There are times when you have to bring out what an individual’s heritage means to them and allow them to be proud of the achievements the people in their heritage or culture have made.”
The importance of this heritage flight has the ability to speak volumes to not only African-Americans, but about the KC-10 community. Thornton explained that while organizing the flight, he realized how few African-American aircrew members there are.
To represent BHM he pulled two pilots, one from the 514th Air Mobility Wing and one from the 305th AMW, a 32nd Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, one 2nd Air Refueling Squadron flight engineer and 605th AMXS crew chief.
“Sometimes you are the only example of goodness some people may see, some people never experience that,” said Thornton. “I want to make sure that if I were to walk away from the Air Force today, the legacy I leave behind would be an instruction manual for those, like me, of how to navigate through the Air Force and life. Not just African-Americans, but everyone. It is not only something I want to do, it is my duty as a noncommissioned officer and a fellow Airman.”
Joint Base MDL has a variety of organizations that allow their military members to express their pride of the culture and heritage they identify with. The African American Cultural Association was established in 2019 at Joint Base MDL and have set up different events throughout the month of February to allow the community to come together no matter their background or identification and honor BHM in different ways.
So far this month, AACA has celebrated with two movie nights with films that show the history of African-Americans in the military along with a paint n’ sip for the artists in the community. If you are interested in participating in future events, contact the African American Cultural Association at (609) 754-5498.