A crew of 33 E-8C Joint STARS aviators made history Feb. 19, 2021, when the first all-African American flight crew in JSTARS history flew from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., on a training mission.
The flight crew of Airmen and Soldiers, from the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing, active-duty Air Force 461st Air Control Wing, and the Army’s 138th Military Intelligence Company, collectively known as Team JSTARS, used the training to also commemorate Black History Month.
“This mission gives us the opportunity to celebrate the legacy and honor our previous successors in the Air Force, primarily the Tuskegee Airmen, and the sacrifices they made in order to get us to where we are now,” said Capt. Dewey McRae, a senior director instructor with the 461st Air Control Wing.
Given the large crew size on the E-8C Joint STARS, the mission was years in the making.
“Within the active-duty and Guard, we have finally been able to come together and fulfill an entire African American aircrew,” said McRae. “Taking that a step forward, we not only had enough people for the actual mission crew but were able to fill additional seats with instructors and evaluators, taking a full jet of African Americans to represent the combat Air Force.”
For Capt. Andrea Lewis, the first African American female pilot in Georgia Air National Guard history, this flight was a dream come true.
“Being the first African American female pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard is a milestone,” said Lewis. “I didn’t intentionally plan on being in that position, but I am proud to be a part of this. I think back to Bessie Coleman being the first African American female pilot to where we are now. It shows the importance of a flight like this.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Maj. Sajjad Abdullateef, a senior director technician with the 461st Air Control Wing.
“It’s always been something I’ve looked forward to, and I look back to individuals like the Tuskegee Airmen and 2nd Lt. Eugene Bullard, the first African American fighter pilot to fly in combat,” said Abdullateef. “Those are the individuals who we know when they stepped to their jets, the racial climate was a lot different than it is as we step to our jet today. They went through a different struggle than us. We appreciate the fact that we are now able to represent and display ourselves for the next individuals coming up.”
Members of the JSTARS aircrew reflected on the individual challenges they each faced.
“When I think about my background and where I came from, with neither of my parents graduating from high school, to me joining the military and becoming an aircrew member on JSTARS, I didn’t think I would ever be able to do that,” said Senior Master Sgt. Tanisha Swift, a senior director technician with the 116th Air Control Wing. “I’m proud to be able to show my son that it may be hard, but it can be done.”
The flight was historic on many levels: the first all-African American E-8C Joint STARS flight crew, piloted by the first female African American pilot in Georgia Air National Guard history, with the first African American former wing commander in Georgia Air National Guard history, and the first female African American state command chief in Georgia Air National Guard history, all executing a mission from the sole location of the E-8C Joint STARS mission at Robins Air Force Base.
“This flight is about living the legacy, knowing the legacy, and growing the legacy,” said McRae.
Team JSTARS provides geographic combatant commanders around the world with on-call battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, commonly referred to as C2ISR.