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Convoy escorts continue proud heritage of Tuskegee Airmen

by Senior Airman Shaun Emery
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/26/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing is steeped in the rich history of its predecessors, the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group.

While today’s Airmen do not share the hardships of breaking racial barriers, Airmen with Detachment 2 here and Det. 1 at Camp Speicher, Iraq, face their own challenges providing convoy escort for the Army.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the most requested bomber escort in World War II, said Col. Gary Shick, 732nd Expeditionary Mission Support Group commander. Today, Airmen providing convoy escort in Iraq are also frequently requested for security escort duty.

Only two years ago, an Airman manning a .50-caliber machine gun to protect an Army convoy was not thought of, Colonel Shick said.

“In 2003, the Army indicated they were short of combat support units needed to provide safe travel across Iraq,” he said. “The Department of Defense turned to the other services to help.”

In a matter of months, Air Force transportation units morphed their usual load, drive, deliver mission into one with Airmen trained for a different kind of battle.

Colonel Shick said some people thought Airmen could not do the same jobs as their Army counterparts.

“We quickly organized, trained and equipped our people,” Colonel Shick said. “In the end, we proved the nimbleness and the agility of the Air Force to take on new tactical missions.”

The hard work and dedication of Detachments 1 and 2 have made an impression on Army Col. David Gaffney, 457th Transportation Battalion commander.

“They are critical enablers who augment the Army to allow us to continue our mission,” he said. “They have successfully transformed Airmen to troops on the ground who can fully support our operations.”

Airmen with Det. 2 said they take pride knowing they share parallels with the Tuskegee Airmen.

“We are aware that we are helping carry the torch,” said 1st Lt. Edward Torres, Det. 2 director of staff. “The Tuskegee Airmen set the standard for excellence; their legacy is well known. That’s what we’re trying to do here. We are setting the bar for the next group of escorts.”

That bar will be high. With more than 400,000 miles covered during their rotation, Detachments 1 and 2 have yet to lose a customer to insurgent attacks.

“We are well trained, focused and vigilant,” Lieutenant Torres said. “We are serving proudly under the rich history of the 332nd AEW.”

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