HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The African-American and Black History Month Committee held an event at the Minuteman Commons here Feb. 22 that featured Airmen in times of war from the past, present and future.
The speakers on hand were retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Enoch Woodhouse, an original Tuskegee Airman; Command Chief Master Sgt. Henry L. Hayes Jr., Hanscom’s command chief; and Staff Sgt. Derek F. Miles, one of the 2016 Air Force 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.
“This event provided the opportunity to hear from African-American Airmen who span nearly eight decades of service in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the United States Air Force,” said 2nd Lt. Nicholas Miano, the project lead for the event and AABHM committee member. “Each presenter spoke about their own experiences in the military, which provided context on the role African Americans have made in times of war, the theme for this year’s month-long observance.”
Woodhouse, who was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, represented the past. He spoke about his mother encouraging him and his brother to serve following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941.
“She said, ‘Boys, America is at war. I want you boys to serve your country,’” he said.
He shared experiences of racism while serving in the 1940s, including once being kicked off a train while in uniform.
“The train conductor comes to me and, not too gently, taps me on the shoulder and said, ‘Get off the train,’” Woodhouse said. “That was an embarrassing thing for me in front of my classmates.”
Woodhouse said, despite the trials and tribulations people of color faced during those early days, he’s proud of his service.
“I am happy, delighted, proud, eager to stand up for the U.S. Air Force,” he said. “Because the U.S. Air Force, out of all the services, after President [Harry] Truman’s edict in ‘47, creating the Department of the Air Force from the U.S. Army Air Corps, that has epitomized the concept of equality of opportunity and diversity.”
After separating from active duty in 1949, Woodhouse joined the Air Force Reserve. He received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University while using his Montgomery GI Bill. He also received a Juris Doctor degree from Boston University Law School in 1955.
The Tuskegee Airman closed by recalling his experiences as an attorney in the Judge Advocate General Office at Hanscom AFB more than 50 years.
“The one thing I want to share with you is this … there are so many opportunities for you here [at Hanscom],” he said. “Not only for your own career advancement, not only for your spiritual development, but for your ability to contribute [to the Air Force].”
Speaking about the present was Hayes, who has been in the Air Force since August 1990. He spoke about the lessons he has learned throughout his career.
“I learned from my mentors, who taught me that I need to be swift to hear and slow to speak, and even slower to anger,” he said, while discussing prejudice as a young Airman. “Anger and revenge, they work against me, and there is no righteousness associated with that posture and that position.”
The chief closed his presentation by issuing a challenge to the more than 100 people attending the event.
“My challenge to you today, in honor of our theme, ‘African Americans in Times of War: Past, Present and Future,’ is to consider how much we can be brothers and sisters in times of war right now and through eternity,” Hayes said.
The final speaker was Miles, who discussed the future.
“I’ve always found that it’s really easy to motivate yourself … but to motivate someone who doesn’t want to be motivated, that is the real challenge,” said Miles, who is stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. “Find out what inspires the people you work with and inspire them. To lead by example is really the true challenge to motivate the next generation in the Air Force.”
Following the presentations, Woodhouse delivered the oath of enlistment to more than 25 new Air Force recruits.