By Col. Russell Wilson
721st Mission Support Group commander
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Just recently you may have read about some paintings we have at the “Mountain” that trace the evolution of Air and Space power. These nine wonderful paintings were actually “lost” and, although much appreciated by a few, they were unknown to most. Over the past year, an effort was launched to contact the Air Force Art program and find the artist. I’m happy to report success, which again I’m hoping many of you had the opportunity to read about. With your indulgence, I wanted to take a few more minutes to touch upon why I think that effort was important and why those of us involved felt as if we had accomplished an important task.
In the Airman’s Creed there’s a short line that says, “I am faithful to a proud heritage,” but I wonder if most folks really give it much thought. I truly believe that line has a different meaning for each of us. Some, I’m sure, really do feel a sense of connection to a proud heritage, but I suspect many don’t give it much thought; they’re just words in a passing fad.
Personally, it comes easy to me as I am privileged to follow in the footsteps of my father, retired Master Sgt. Robert Wilson; my oldest brother, retired Lt. Col. David Wilson; my next oldest brother, retired Master Sgt. Charles Wilson; and even my brother-in-law, retired Master Sgt. Ronnie Duhamel.
The fact is, I have always lived on or very near military bases my entire life. My earliest memories involve the mischief kids get into at places such as Little Rock and Anderson Air Force Bases. We did things way back then that would really upset me today if I caught my kids doing likewise. But the deeper impressions were of seeing the men and women in uniform working day in and day out in service of country. It was an environment where traffic stopped and folks stood proudly whenever the flag was raised or retired for the day, and where I saw many of the aircraft that now sit in museums roar down the runways.
I was still pretty young when my father, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, retired. And while retirement may have been a career transition for my father, it proved to be yet another phase of heritage lessons for me. My dad, being a bit ornery, always told me he retired in Arkansas because we had no relatives in that state. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but more influential in my case was his membership and involvement with the Arkansas Retiree Military Association. This group of retirees, from all the services, ingrained an appreciation for our military’s proud heritage through their personnel accounts and “war stories” told at nearly every encounter, be it around a campfire, out fishing or any one of the other multitude of social events they organized. They truly enjoyed one another’s company and stories. I think the common experiences or shared heritage set their bonds of friendship.
Years later I gained a more formal appreciation of our Air Force heritage while attending the Air Force Academy. This time the stories weren’t mixed up with how big the one was that got away, but rather they were more factual and detailed. I learned about the individuals and events that shaped my Air Force making it the most powerful Air Force on the planet.
Additionally, our Airman Leadership School and Noncommissioned Officer Academy graduations oftentimes involve very meaningful heritage lessons spanning the existence of our service. I am impressed and proud of the time and effort the students put into sharing those lessons with the rest of us. Likewise, our chief of staff has a recommended reading list that includes works important to strengthen our understanding of that proud heritage.
If you have any appreciation of our Air Force heritage, those paintings by Terrance Patterson will capture your attention and imagination. I certainly hope and strive to pass along an appreciation of that proud heritage to my children, but I’m afraid my father-in-law, retired Marine Col. John Studt, may have brainwashed my boys towards the Corps. And, although I’m a bit chagrined they learned the Marine Corps hymn before learning the Air Force Song, I’d be proud if they choose either path.
For their benefit, I recount the story of when I worked in the Pentagon. I was in a joint unit commanded by a Navy captain. At our weekly staff meetings, one of my peers, a Marine officer, would often tell us of a historic Marine Corps date or event, until at one particular meeting he asked me what historic Air Force event I wanted to share. I just smiled and reported the U.S. Air Force makes history every day.
Next time you hear, read, or recite the Airman’s Creed, think about, learn about and share that proud heritage.