By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 15, 2005) -- Members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen visited the Pentagon to learn about today's Air Force and visit with the secretary of defense.
The Airmen visited Nov. 10.
One pioneering Airman, retired Lt. Col. Howard Baugh, took time to reflect on the changes in the military since the day he joined in 1942.
"Back in the '40s and prior to that, the military services of the United States were the most racist and segregated segment of our society," Colonel Baugh said. "Today, it is the most fair and integrated segment of our society.
“And the Armed Forces are leading the rest of society in acceptance and tolerance of diversity in our society," he said.
Today, the colonel said, the military brings together all segments of society -- blending the boundaries of race, religion and ethnicity.
"They learn together, they live together, and they realize after a while that the differences in people are small, few and insignificant," he said.
During their Airmen listen to Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. John D. W. Corley discuss the priorities of today's Air Force.
One of those priorities is maintaining a healthy and modern aircraft fleet. General Corley said as Air Force aircraft age, it becomes more difficult and more costly to provide air power to the joint force.
"Our adversaries ... in the world are investing in things new and are starting to approach parity with us in things aviation," General Corley said. "We can't let that stand."
General Corley also discussed the Air Force’s contributions to the joint fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.
"We are not just deployed and conducting combat operations in (the Central Command area of responsibility) of Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "We are doing it all over the world today.
“We are flying satellites, 24/7, 365 days a year,” he said. “We have forward deployed presence all the way to the Pacific and across every inch of this globe. We are going to continue with that struggle, and are going to continue to underpin this nation and its ability to fight the war."
General Corley said that to date, the Air Force has flown more than 200,000 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than 130,000 sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom -- and dropped more than 20,000 bombs.
The Tuskegee Airmen had lunch with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and toured the Pentagon.
The Tuskegee Airmen formed in 1941 when the Army Air Force began a program to train black Americans as military pilots at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.