By Airman 1st Class Charles Welty, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published June 04, 2019
Retired Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, and his wife, speak with Air Command and Staff College students, May 29, 2019, during the 38th annual Gathering of Eagles at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Harris was selected as an Eagle for his acts of leadership and courage during his time as a POW in Vietnam, where he introduced the tap code as a means for prisoners to communicate. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Birchfield)
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Don A. Beasley speaks with Air Command and Staff College students, May 29, 2019, during the 38th annual Gathering of Eagles at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Beasley was selected as an Eagle for his innovative contributions to the pararescue community while developing and executing some of the most daring rescues in history, specifically Desert One. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Birchfield)
Retired Col. Merryl “Dragon Lady” Tengesdal, chats with students, May 28, 2019, on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Tengesdal was invited to an Eagle for the 38th annual Gathering of Eagles due to her distinguished career as a U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft command pilot, with more than 3,400 flight hours and 330 command hours. She was the first and only African American woman to fly the U-2 and one of only five women and three African Americans to be accepted into the U-2 program. (US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
Senior Master Sgt. Thomas E. Case speaks with a fellow Airman, May 28, 2019, on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Case, who currently serves as a squadron superintendent with Pacific Air Command, was selected to be a member of the 2019 Eagles because of his valor and gallantry in combat. He is one of three Airmen in U.S. Air Force history to twice receive the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award, which he received supporting ground force operations in Iraq in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
Air University’s Air Command and Staff College hosted its 38th Gathering of Eagles, May 27-31, 2019.
The annual ACSC capstone event invites aviation legends to AU to engage in community outreach opportunities and make military heritage come alive for ACSC students and faculty.
“[The Eagles] provide the bridge from the academics we’ve been learning about all year,” said Maj. William Booth, ACSC student. “This is a chance for [us] to come in, unburdened by other studies, and listen to the firsthand account of these Eagles. These folks are living legends and they’re telling their stories through oral history. That’s a different mechanism by which to learn about the Air Force legacy, but also provides students with a well-rounded picture of the academics here at ACSC.”
Part of what makes this such a unique experience for the students is the fact that the stories they’re hearing aren’t widely known throughout the military.
“The Eagles aren’t exactly famous by Air Force history standards,” Booth said. “We did that intentionally, because these individuals have a story to tell, and if we didn’t capture it, perhaps nobody else would. There is value in finding those folks and getting their stories down in the published book that we’ve working on for more than 30 years. It’s about finding that story, those hidden gems that the history books often overlook.”
Although it’s hosted by Air University, the Air Force’s pinnacle educational institution, the Gathering of Eagles is beneficial to more than just Airmen.
“Think about who’s in the audience; it’s not just Air Force officers,” Booth said. “We have our joint partners as well as coalition and international officers. The idea is that if we can inspire or broaden the knowledge base of the audience, it preps for making a significant impact on not only our Air Force officers, but our joint and coalition partners, as well. Hands down, this experience taught me to think differently and to be a more broad-minded joint officer.”
Over the course of GoE week, the Eagles each had an opportunity to address the students directly and share their stories on stage. Additionally, they spent time signing autographs, visiting local schools and being recognized by off-base organizations, meeting with installation leadership and talking one-on-one with the current generation of Airmen.
“This has been an outstanding operation,” said retired Col. William Mol, who was selected as an Eagle because of his distinguished career as a pilot during the Korean and Vietnam wars. “I’m so impressed with the attitude of everybody, it was all helpful and everyone went out of their way to make this thing work. I’ve been retired for a long time, and getting back in the Air Force family was very exciting.”
The program can be traced to 1980 when ACSC invited retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets to share his experiences with students, with the first official GoE program in 1982.
The full list of this year’s Eagles and more information about the program can be found at the GOE website.