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Modern day Tuskegee Airman continues legend

ALI BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- He was born and raised in Tuskegee, Ala., and his face lights up when he has the opportunity to talk about the Tuskegee Airmen and their role in his life.

He has deployed twice to units in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, which traces its heritage to the 332nd Fighter Group of World War II and the brave African American Tuskegee Airmen who filled its ranks pilots who flew with distinction.

He has served with the 506th Air Expeditionary Group at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, and now to the 407th AEG at Ali Base, both units under the famed 332nd AEW.  The motto for today's 332nd AEW is, "the legend continues -- right here, right now," and Maj. Terrence Adams is proud to be a part of it.

The legend is about an all-black unit who "overcame adversity when diversity wasn't popular," said Major Adams, the 407th Expeditionary Communications Squadron commander.

At the time, the U.S. military was racially segregated keeping most black service members in labor and support battalions. The United States Army Air Corps changed that after the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 cleared the way for them to create an all-black combat flying unit, known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were also nicknamed the
"red-tail flyers" because each of their aircraft was painted with a distinctive red tail during the war.

The pilots were trained in Major Adams' hometown of Tuskegee.

According to the U.S. Air Force's official Tuskegee Airmen fact sheet, the black fliers were credited with shooting down 111 enemy aircraft and destroying 150 enemy aircraft on the ground, along with 600 railroad cars, one destroyer and 40 more boats and barges. Approximately 150 black Airmen paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

The 332nd Fighter Group was inactivated July 1, 1949. It was called back to service in 1998 when it was reactivated at Ahmed Al Jaber AB, Kuwait, and has since been relocated to its current headquarters at Balad AB, Iraq. The reactivation set the stage to catch Major Adams in a Tuskegee crossfire.

From one direction, he grew up with them, his whole life spent being mentored and molded by their legacy. And now, he has the opportunity to take his life's experiences and put it into action, while deployed to the Tuskegee wing.

"Tuskegee is deeply rooted in my life. Every town has their 'something' to connect with, and I have that connection with the Tuskegee Airmen," the major said. "I saw artifacts of the Tuskegee Airmen every day. It's hard for anyone there not to be enveloped by it at any age."

It wasn't just artifacts of the World War II veterans that affected him, but the veterans themselves. One of his family friends is retired Lt. Col. Herbert Carter, a Tuskegee Airman.

"I call him for advice sometimes," the major said, who will soon be redeploying to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. 

One of the many lessons he learned from the Tuskegee Airmen growing up was that all races are equal and that racial diversity and understanding is key to keeping discrimination and hatred at bay.

"The 'race thing' puts a barrier between people," the major said. "All races need to be more open and honest and less scared to hold conversations about our beliefs, culture and color."

That thought may be second nature to some children in today's diverse communities, but for Major Adams, in his youth, he didn't have very many opportunities to befriend other children of different races.

"Tuskegee is a historically black town," he said. "There were a few white families, but we rarely had an opportunity to talk with them."

He set the goal to go to college, and because he didn't want his mom to have to work a second job, he enlisted in the Army because the service offered the G.I. Bill and a college fund for two years of service. He worked as a cook and earned three Army Achievement Medals before joining the Army Reserve and attending Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala.

After graduating, he commissioned in the Air Force in 1994, which would have been nearly impossible for an African American when the Tuskegee Airmen were first formed; there were only two African American line officers at that time -- Capt. Benjamin Davis Jr., who was chosen to command them, and his father Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr.

Unlike the days when Captain Davis commanded, Major Adams has worked for and led men and women from all walks of life throughout his career. He attributed a lot of the strength of today's military to diversity.

"The original Tuskegee Airmen set the stage," he said. "Instead of a 332nd completely made up of black men, we now have men and women from every race, color, religion and national origin -- today's military is exactly what the Tuskegee Airmen of the past envisioned."

Now, with 14 years of Air Force experience, the Tuskegee crossfire of his life is complete, as he finishes his second tour to the wing. He said he has used his life experiences every day he commands his communications squadron.

The effects of his Tuskegee mentorship are felt by his Airmen every day.

"The Tuskegee Airmen were amazing. They did everything they could possible do and people gave them a shot at it. They took the opportunity and ran with it. They put their own personal stamp on it, they became some of the best fighter pilots in the Air Force," said Senior Airman Edward Blaize, a 407th ECS communications focal point technician deployed with the major from Tinker AFB. "And that's exactly how I see the major carrying on that spirit. He's putting his own personal stamp on everything he does and it shows."

Not only that, the major gets personal with his Airmen, not leading from the sidelines, but in the huddle, motivating his Airmen every day.

"He's very interactive with all of us, he'll come by the flight and joke around with us and makes us feel important," said the native of New York City. "He's really personable with all of us and takes an interest in us as people, not just another face in the crowd."

"He's helped me personally by showing me different ways to accomplish goals or doing things for our superiors instead of dragging your feet on certain problems. He tells us to try and motivate ourselves to take pride in our work," he said. "When you put something together and take pride in it, you're putting yourself out there for everyone to see. You're putting your own personal stamp on it, just like the Tuskegee Airmen did."

He's not only leading individual Airmen to excellence, Major Adams is leading his squadron to continue the legend as well.

In just four months, the squadron transitioned from using a Vietnam-era radar to a new containerized airport surveillance radar enhancing control of Iraq's airspace. Squadron members created a solution to send line-of-site video feeds from MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to local commanders enhancing the security of the base while finding time to enhance Airmen morale by designing and installing Web cameras at the recreation facility to keep families connected.

Although the major never fell in love with aviation, the Tuskegee Airmen taught him how to continue their legend by leaving his stamp on the mission and his Airmen, which embodies the red tail spirit.

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