Retired United States Air Force Col Quentin Smith Jr. remembers when he was the only black man in his pilot training class. The year was 1968. At an air force base in Oklahoma, far from home, he was not only isolated from his family in Virginia, but he was alienated from his classmates for the first six weeks of his training.
“I started out feeling very alone, but I drew inspiration from what B.O. Davis Jr. and the other Tuskegee Airmen endured in service to our country,” says Smith. “I was ultimately embraced by my classmates, but the Tuskegee Airmen’s grit, determination and persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is something we can all learn from.”
As the Tuskegee Airmen inspired and motivated Smith in his 30-year Air Force career and beyond, so he has dedicated himself to help preserve and share that legacy for the next generation.
Smith has been an enthusiastic supporter of the CAF Red Tail Squadron for many years, and recently his personal support helped bring the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to the Virginia area where hundreds of school children had the chance to see the original film “Rise Above” and be inspired by the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s this dedication and support to the Squadron that has earned Smith the title of ‘Hometown Hero,’ a CAF Red Tail Squadron supporter who has made the commitment to bring the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to their own community.
On it’s way to an air show, the Traveling Exhibit made an off-tarmac stop at a local school, as it does in most every community it visits. But this visit was a bit special, setting up at Stafford Middle School where Smith’s son, Mark Smith, is the principle. Representatives from the CAF Red Tail Squadron, along with the administration of the school, held a special presentation to honor Smith for his long-term dedication to the Squadron and for helping bring the Traveling Exhibit to the students of Stafford Middle School.
“I have been and will remain a supporter of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s outreach work because if we can reach just one kid with the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen, it’s worth it,” says Smith. “When I spoke with the students, it was amazing how interested they were and how they were really thinking about their futures. It was an example of how the Tuskegee Airmen could and do serve as role models for kids. We are truly standing on their shoulders and I am honored to be a part of this organization.”
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.