Diverse Reasons to Give Thanks

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
On July 16, 1917, Capt. Byron Q. Jones gathered together the men of the 8th and 9th Aero Squadrons at Selfridge Field. All the people wearing military uniforms that day were men. In fact, they were all white men.

It was the first day of flying training at the brand new base. Before Jones, one of the first pilots in the Army, could demonstrate his skills as a pilot, he gave lesson number one: how to assemble your airplane. Aircraft mechanics were still few and far between in those days. So he assembled his Curtiss JN-4 Jenny himself and then took it for a spin.

Much has changed at Selfridge and in the military since that historic first flight at the base. It would be easy to point to changes in technology and in the aircraft that fly at the base - jet engines, anyone? - as the biggest change. But even in the Air Force, where the use and reliance on new technology has always been high, the story has always truly been about the people. Without quality people, all the technology in the world is just so much unused potential.
For all the progress that has been made in technology, it pales in comparison to the progress that has been made in terms of opportunity and openness to people. Every single person in uniform on that July day was a male. All of the officers - and very likely all of the enlisted personnel - were white. Well in excess of 50 percent of the population was excluded from serving in the fledgling new Air Service.

This Thanksgiving season, I am most thankful that when I look out across the 127th Wing, I see faces that represent every color of the human species, both male and female. The air wing at Selfridge - back in 1917 the idea of calling a local flying unit a "wing" hadn't been decided upon yet - is strengthened by the ideas, inputs and contributions of such diversity. Different people from different backgrounds bring different points of view to their job. While this no doubt creates a more challenging environment in which to be a leader, it also means that the heights that can be attained are much greater.

Few adults, in uniform or not, need a history review to know that the road to diversity in our military has not always been paved with the most glorious incidents of our history. In fact, some parts of the story that got us to today have been downright ugly. More than ugly enough to spoil even the healthiest of Thanksgiving appetites.

This season, though, I give thanks for the progress that we have made in creating an Air Force that, though not perfect, far better reflects the America we serve. I look forward to continued progress.

The tale of Jones assembling his own aircraft for that flight makes for a great side story as we consider the history of Selfridge, but it hardly reflects the reality of today's Air Force. Imagine a pilot today - or anyone really - assembling his own F-35 Lightning II and then taking it for a flight. The complexity of our aircraft has made that all but impossible. The reality of human nature makes it impractical as well. Today's 127th Wing at Selfridge is populated by some Airmen who are excellent pilots. We are equally blessed with skilled mechanics. The Air Force - and any group of people, really - operates at its highest level when each person is encouraged to maximize his or her gifts and talents. So, pilots fly; and mechanics fix airplanes. In other corners of the base, those with mathematics skills keep track of the accounts, those with a mind for focus and detail work in the command post and those inclined to be caregivers work in the medical group. No one person does it all by himself. We may be able to fly or fight as individuals, but we only Fly, Fight & Win when we work together as a team.

This Thanksgiving season, I am thankful to be a part of an organization that recognizes that teamwork is an essential part of success.

Much has changed since that first flight at Selfridge Field. Most of those changes have been for the better and make us stronger as individuals and as a military service. One thing that has not changed: the Airmen at Selfridge continue to serve the greatest nation in the world.

And for that, I give thanks.