Vance Airmen honor a Tuskegee Airman

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alyssa Letts
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Lt. Col. Kenyatta Ruffin, the past 71st Operations Support Squadron commander, helped honor his childhood role model, retired Brig. Gen. Charles E. McGee, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Tuesday, June 29.

Ruffin was a speaker at the ceremony renaming the aviation terminal at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri, after the legendary hero.

The building’s new name is the Charles E. McGee General Aviation Terminal. 

In his speech at the ceremony, Ruffin attributes his success in the Air Force to a lesson he has learned from McGee. The lesson is that the core of leadership is to not only take care of people, but to inspire them. This was echoed throughout the ceremony. 

“I am so excited to share some words that Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the 22nd chief of staff of the Air Force shared with me about you,” said Ruffin in his speech. 

He went on to quote Brown, “General McGee’s legacy is foundational to our service and is a daily personal inspiration to me and so many other Airmen. The U.S. Air Force is excited to honor his heroic life and know that his example of integrity, service and excellence will inspire many generations of Americans and all who pass through the doors of this terminal.”

Ruffin was one of seven speakers at the ceremony, which included: Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and a former Air Force fighter pilot; the mayor of Kansas City; and several government officials.

Brig. Gen. Michael Schultz, commander of the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, lauded McGee’s historic record of 409 combat missions during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. 

“He is a fighter’s pilot, fighter pilot” said Schultz.

An important part of the ceremony for Ruffin was when, on behalf of the FAA, Dickson named three sequential navigation waypoints on the approach into Kansas City International Airport “Tuskegee,” “Airmen” and “McGee,” so the general’s name will be spoken by pilots for years to come.

The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen was on full display for 1st Lt. Sarah Witzgall, a student pilot in the Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 program. She accompanied Ruffin on a training mission to the ceremony. 

“As I look ahead to my own UPT graduation, 78 years following General McGee’s, I hope to embody the same core values that he has lived his remarkable life by – perceive, prepare, perform and persevere,” said Witzgall.

For Ruffin, McGee embodies an important legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. “They proved that given the motivation and opportunity, anyone can perform with excellence and make a difference in the world,” he said.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a precursor of the U.S. Air Force.

Trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their impressive performance earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and helped encourage the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces.