Black History Month takes flight Published March 17, 2022 By Charles J. Haymond 55th Wing Public Affairs OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Members of Team Offutt conducted a training flight composed of an all African American crew March 11, in honor of Black History Month. The celebration of black history was not always a month-long observation. It originally lasted seven days during the second week in February. In 1976, President Gerald Ford identified the month of February as Black History Month. To this aircrew it was significant for them to honor those who came before them while also displaying an image for black boys and girls who are interested in becoming aviators in the Air Force. “Being the representation that is going to inspire the next generation and also taking the torch from those who came before us and presenting opportunity based on what they have allowed for us to accomplish,” said Capt. Tony Stark, 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron weapons officer in Charge of the tactics and EWOs flight commander. According to the Air Force’s Personnel Center activity duty demographics, only 15 percent of the Air Force is African American and there are very few who make up the aviator career fields. “It’s both awesome and sobering to know that we represent just under 2 percent of the Air Force’s active duty pilot population, a number that has consistently been disproportionate to what is expected based on the national population of African Americans for over 30 years,” said Capt. Michael R. Billups, 343d Reconnaissance Squadron, deputy director of staff. “So while I cherish the opportunity I have to live my dream every single day, I make it a point to be as vocal and visible as possible to the next generation so that today’s boys and girls can make the connection that they too can become military pilots if they want.” With such a low number of African Americans in aviation duties, an all African American crew is uncommon. “I’ve not been in an all-black air crew but with this being our first one, I am so excited to be able to see people that look like me, flying this aircraft, being a part of this experience and hope that it will grow and expand in the future,” said 1st Lt. Jasmine Eaker 38th Reconnaissance Squadron electronic warfare officer. Although the training sortie was flown to certify the aviators in some flight operations tasks, the air crew hoped the mission would serve a greater purpose of inspiring the next generation of African American aviators. “I hope they feel a sense of pride and connection to what we have been able to build upon and accomplish thus far as well as feel optimistic about opportunities for African Americans in military aviation in the future,” Billups said. “I hope boys and girls see themselves in us and make the connection that they have the potential and ability to be right where we are.” The flight was originally scheduled, Feb. 25 but due to scheduling conflicts the flight was postponed until March 11.