Aviation pioneers encourage innovation, resiliency during annual Gathering of Eagles

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Charles Welty
  • Air University Public Affairs

Air University’s Air Command and Staff College welcomed 10 distinguished visitors who have made significant contributions in aerospace history to visit the school May 29-31, for the 37th annual Gathering of Eagles event here.


The event, now serving as a capstone for the ACSC curriculum, invited these prominent speakers to share their stories of courage, perseverance and innovation with the officers and civilians attending the school in an effort to inspire today’s military leaders to achieve greatness in support of their country.


Dating back to 1980, the GOE has honored more than 450 Eagles including Neil Armstrong, Jimmy Doolittle, Bea Haydu, John Glenn, Curtis LeMay, and Chuck Yeager.


This year’s group of Eagles consisted of:


  • Dr. Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. – A Vietnam combat veteran and the first African American astronaut, was inducted to the International Space and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. He continues to be a pioneer in the field of aerospace engineering as the President of Aerospace Technology in Ohio.


  • Col. (ret) Ken Cordier – Had a distinguished Air Force career that spanned 22 years, with over 2,000 flying hours and 175 combat missions. He spent six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.


  • Col. (ret) Michael J. D’Argenio – An innovative and resourceful senior Air Force leader, he was selected in 2005 by Air Force Special Operations Command to lead the rapid fielding and deployment of the U-28A Tactical Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance platform, a now-critical asset in the U.S. Special Operations Command aircraft inventory.


  • Gen. (ret) Charles “Charlie” Holland – Made outstanding contributions to airpower spanning over 35 years as a leader and combat pilot, and was the first Air Force officer to command the U.S. Special Operations Command.


  • Lt. Col. (ret) Kelly Latimer – The first female test pilot for NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and currently serves as the lead test pilot for Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne program.


  • Chief Master Sgt. (ret) William “Calvin” Markham – Operated as the joint terminal attack controller for the U.S. Special Operations team of 13 American servicemen deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, calling in 175 airstrikes and eliminating 3,500 enemy troops in just over five weeks.


  • Gen. Lori J. Robinson – Has served in a variety of positions and commanded with courage and resilience at multiple levels, forever impacting airpower as not only the highest ranking Air Battle Manager but also the highest ranking and first female unified combatant commander in the history of the U.S. military.


  • Lt. Col. (ret) Bill Schwertfeger – Displayed inspiring resiliency while spending 407 days in captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and subsequently continued his outstanding contributions to airpower as a leader and combat-proven fighter pilot with a career spanning over 20 years of service to the nation.


  • Gen. (ret) William L. Shelton – Had a distinguished career as a senior Air Force leader, culminating as the commander of Air Force Space Command, where he made outstanding innovative contributions to military operations in space and cyberspace while leading over 42,000 military professionals worldwide in the defense of the United States.


  • Chief Warrant Officer 5 Don Tabron – Distinguished himself as an innovative leader during 34 years of Army service culminating as a senior MH-47 air mission commander within the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, embodying the “Night Stalker” motto of “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit,” through courageous actions in Afghanistan during the Battle of Takur Ghar.


“I think that this class of Eagles epitomizes the qualities of courage, innovation and resilience that we’re going to need to succeed as we lead airpower into the 21st century,” said Col. James Dryjanski, ACSC commandant. “They have participated in every conflict since Vietnam, and the struggles that they have been through (allow us) to draw on the lessons that they learned and apply them to the challenges that we are going to face in the future. It means a lot to the students of ACSC to bring in these airpower icons and hear their stories and connect with them.”


During the three day event, each Eagle was given an opportunity to share their story and experiences with the students of ACSC as well as an opportunity to interact one-on-one with them to answer any specific questions following the presentations.


“Air University has provided a great opportunity for us to tell our stories, and hopefully (the students) don’t have to make the same mistakes that I did,” Schwertfeger said. “(They) might not have to get shot down and held as a prisoner of war because I told them something (here) that saved them later down the road.”


The GOE program itself is organized, sponsored and funded by the Gathering of Eagles Foundation, a private, non-profit organization, which consists of approximately 16 ACSC students who research, plan and promote the event.


In addition to the GOE event, the GOE Foundation also encourages the future study of aviation through its Future Eagles Scholarship Program, providing ROTC scholarships to deserving future college students to provide life changing educational experiences with a focus on air, space and cyberspace.  Both programs are designed to reinforce the GOE Foundation’s mission, “Honoring our past to inspire military and community leaders in a new era.”