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E-8C JSTARS all-African American flight crew makes history

Photo shows group of Airmen standing in front of aircraft.

Airmen and Soldiers from the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing, active-duty Air Force 461st ACW and the Army’s 138th Military Intelligence Company pose for a photo at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., Feb. 19, 2021. The crew made history as the first all-African American E-8C Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System flight crew to fly from Robins AFB on a training mission. The mission was also in commemoration of Black History Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS) --

A crew of 33 E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aviators made history Feb. 19 when the first all-African American flight crew in JSTARS history flew from Robins Air Force Base 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, 461st ACW senior director instructor.

Given the large crew size on the E-8C JSTARS, 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,” McRae said. “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 ANG history, this flight was a dream come true.

“Being the first African American female pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard is a milestone,” Lewis said. “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, 461st ACW senior director technician.

“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,” Abdullateef said. “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 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, 116th ACW senior director technician. “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 JSTARS flight crew, piloted by the first female African American pilot in Georgia ANG history, with the first African American former wing commander in Georgia ANG history, and the first female African American state command chief in Georgia ANG history – all executing a mission with the E-8C JSTARS at Robins AFB.

“This flight is about living the legacy, knowing the legacy, and growing the legacy,” McRae said.

Team JSTARS provides geographic combatant commanders around the world with on-call battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.