Air Force weather celebrates African American History Month

  • Published
  • By Historical Documents
  • AFWA Public Affairs
Each February, the country recognizes African American History Month to highlight the struggles and triumphs of millions of American citizens during some of the most trying times in the nation's history. 

This month is also an ideal time to reflect on and recognize the contributions African-Americans have made to our country's military as well. For many in the Air Force this story starts with the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group. 

But while this famous group of Army Air Corps pilots' many accomplishments are well documented in books and feature films, there are some members of this unit whose journey may not be as well known. However, it is this collection of ground breakers that remain in Air Force weather lore. 

Prior to 1941 there were no African-American professional meteorologists or weather observers in the military or civilian weather community. This changed when five enlisted men entered the weather observer course at Chanute Field, Ill., as part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron initial cadre March 21, 1941. 

Those individuals were John B. Branche, Victor O. Campbell, Walter E. Moore, Paul V. Freeman and James G. Johnson. Branche and Moore completed the enlisted forecaster's course while Campbell, Freeman and Johnson completed the teletype maintenance course. 

Around that same time another landmark was taking place when Wallace P. Reed entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the first African-American in the meteorological aviation cadet program. Reed went on to graduate from the program Feb. 14, 1942. 

These six men came together at Tuskegee, Ala., when the weather detachment stood up March 21, 1942. And from this humble beginning, 13 more meteorological aviation cadets were commissioned and more than 50 enlisted men were trained, primarily through on-the-job training as observers. 

The five original enlisted forecasters went on to become commissioned. Branche continued on as a weather officer for the remainder of his career and became an accomplished forecaster. Through Oct. 1942 through May 1944 he was rated 46th out of more than 2,000 Army Air Forces forecasters in the continental United States and he remained in the top 100 until the conclusion of the war. 

An additional weather detachment was set up in mid-1944 at Godman Field, Ky., for the 477th Bomb Group. Following the completion of the war, both the Tuskegee and Godman weather detachments were sent to Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio, where they remained until the Air Force was desegregated in 1949. 

Charles Anderson, who was one of the weather officers during this time, went on to attend MIT and became the first African-American to earn a doctorate in meteorology. 

While these stories are only a small part of African-American military history, they show the import role these men played during World War II and explain why they remain an integral part of the Air Force weather foundation. 

African American History Month is also on the minds of those currently serving in the American military as for the first time in its history; the U.S. armed forces are led by an African-American commander in chief. 

President Barack Obama, the 44th commander in chief, is recognized by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute in an original artwork available for download. To download the artwork, visit