“The Air Force has no heritage.”
“I wish we had culture like the other services!”
“Leadership keeps making changes, and that’s why we don’t have any history!”
Phrases like these were a constant throughout my service, often spoken by older airmen. I’d be a liar if I claimed to have never said something similar when I was in their shoes. I understand where those feelings come from, but unfortunately, they’re uninformed.
Some say that everything prior to the formal creation of the Air Force is actually Army heritage. Think about that for a second. People don’t say pre-1776 history isn’t American just because we were still a colony. We don’t treat the pilgrims as British history just because the United States hadn’t been formed yet. From the American Expeditionary Force to the Doolittle Raiders and beyond, those warriors helped build the foundation of what we know today.
Everyone knows stories about legendary soldiers and Marines. Whether they be grunts Alvin York, John Basilone and Chris Kyle, or leaders like Pershing, Patton and MacArthur. What about the Air Force? Who do we have that stands out? Here are just a few of the people we should be familiarizing ourselves with.
Hap Arnold, Robin Olds, Billy Mitchell, Chappie James, Curtis Lemay, Bud Day, John Levitow, Pits Pitsenbarger, Chuck Yeager, Eddie Rickenbacker. Everyone should recognize at least a few of those names. Hap Arnold designed the legacy symbol on our Airman’s Coins, and was one of the founders of our force in the WWI days with Billy Mitchell. Robin Olds is perhaps our most well-known pilot, with an iconic mustache and legendary story to boot. Anyone who has been through ALS should recognize the name of John Levitow, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during Vietnam. The SERE grads in the audience better know Bud Day, surviving the Hanoi Hilton and later returning to flying status after the war.
Not only do we have a huge roster of heroes, but the Air Force also has a history of breaking down barriers. We stand out as having the first Black senior enlisted advisor, four star general and chief of staff across all the services. These men are Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Thomas Barnes, Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James and, most recently, Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown. On top of this, we also have the first Asian American and first female senior enlisted advisor in Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass.
“Nobody cares about us. Name an Air Force movie.” This one really seems to bother people. If this is what keeps you up at night, I wish I had your problems, because I’m about to solve them. “Dr. Strangelove,” “Transformers,” “The Memphis Belle,” “Stargate,” “The Last Full Measure,” “Captain Marvel” and the legendary “Iron Eagle.” Hell, I’ll still take “Top Gun” and other Navy films since nearly everyone I talk to thinks that they’re about the Air Force.
Changes aren’t permanent, but change is
Things change, there’s no denying that. The Air Force is known for making changes, especially when it comes to uniform items. Lately, I hear complaints about the change to the Operation Camouflage Pattern uniform from the Airman Battle Uniform, or ABU, saying that we’re merely copying our Army brethren. It seems as though people are unaware that until relatively recently, service members of different branches wore the same uniform. It wasn’t until 2011 that the Air Force started issuing the ABU. Our sister services had already to their new patterns several years prior. The Battle Dress Uniform, or BDU, was phased out before my time, but I know more than a few of you have a pair hanging in the closet. Before that it was the old, olive drab uniforms, with limited use of other patterns. The unique uniforms of the various services is newer than most think.
The Airman’s Creed is relatively new, but for most airmen, it’s all they’ve ever known. The Air Force Song is changing, our personal feelings on that won’t change policy. Our current logo is new, but it has solid meaning behind it. I love the old Hap Arnold logo, and much like our nation’s flag, symbology changes, but never goes away. We’re not the only branch to make these changes. The Soldier’s Creed was first written in 2003, making it older than some of the soldiers speaking it now. The Marine Corps hymn was revised as recently as 1929. The Army’s song, The Army Goes Rolling Along, was adopted in 1952, after the Air Force was created as a separate branch.
The Air Force has incredible history. We’ve been instrumental in the most important campaigns throughout modern warfare. It’s our job to preserve our heritage and pass it on to newer generations.
Daniel Reedy served more than eight years in the Air Force in an integrated Guard/active duty unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. He separated from the Air Force in 2021 as a staff sergeant.
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