Legends of airpower honored at 2024 Gathering of Eagles event

  • Published
  • By Robert Dantzler
  • Air University Public Affairs

The Air Command and Staff College elective, Gathering of Eagles, is set to host its annual capstone event at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, May 7-10, 2024.

Students who enrolled in the GOE elective course spent months researching and writing a book about the careers and contribution of airpower legends who served the warfighter in numerous ways, referred to as Eagles in the program.

As part of their research, the students travel to meet with each Eagle for face-to-face interviews.
Maj. Molly Sexton, a student in the course, described part her visit with Dr. Natalie Crawford, “She’s done all these amazing things career-wise. She’s changed the face of weapons. She’s changed the face of survivability. She’s changed the airplanes that we fly, and by no means am I downplaying those, but what I didn’t expect to find is that the person is even more amazing than the accomplishments on paper.”

The students have the opportunity to learn valuable leadership skills and life lessons directly from individuals that paved the way for students and future warfighters. On top of these once in a lifetime experiences, they also engaged with the local River Region community through outreach events and interaction with K-12 students about careers in STEM fields.

“I loved the fact that they were taking the kids of the Montgomery and Prattville public school system and raising money to give them an experience that they may not get from anyone else,” said Maj. Carly Molzer, a student in the course. “To see a potential future, whether it’s air, space, cyber, any of those camps that they get to go to through the provided support from the course.”

The Gathering of Eagles program was created as a result of an invitation in 1980 to have retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, a former ACSC student and pilot of the Enola Gay, come to ACSC to share his experiences with faculty and students at the school. Over time the elective has developed into a robust program with a wider scope and footprint in the local community and in the lives of those at Air University, realized fully through the annual capstone event.

The 2024 Eagles:

Retired Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian
Retired Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian was selected as an Eagle for his significant contributions to airpower and air combat. Prior to his retirement, he was the commander of United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa from May 2020 to June 2022. He concurrently served as the commander of Allied Air Command and director of the Joint Air Power Competence Center. He is a command pilot with more than 4,100 hours in the F-22, F-15C, A/OA-37 and MQ-1 and was instrumental in the development of the F-22 and F-35. He is a combat tested veteran who was involved in Operations Just Cause, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve, Atlantic Resolve, and Allies Refuge. Gen. Harrigian was flying combat missions while he was the AFCENT Commander and was instrumental in strengthening NATO’s Eastern Front during Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

Retired Col. James Harvey III
Retired Col. James Harvey III was selected as an Eagle for his outstanding contributions to airpower. Col. Harvey overcame adversity to attain his dream of flying. He was the winner of the military’s first Worldwide Gunnery Meet and the first African American fighter pilot to fly in Korean airspace. While serving in the Korean War, he led an element of four F-80s in close support to a bomber mission under adverse weather to attack and inflict heavy damage on enemy troops. Col. Harvey is one of the last living Tuskegee Airmen and has received numerous medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Dr. Natalie Crawford
Dr. Natalie Crawford is a senior fellow and distinguished chair for Air and Space Policy at the RAND Corp. She has excelled in many roles most notably as vice president and director of Project Air Force. Dr. Crawford shaped RAND’s research projects focused on aerospace, air defense, information systems, military aircraft, military force planning, military strategy, and military transformation to increase Air Force capabilities, national security, aerospace science, and technology. She has been twice awarded the Department of the Air Force Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service. Dr. Crawford received the Air Force Analytic Community’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lt. Gen. Glenn Kent Leadership Award, and the Vance R. Wanner Memorial Award from the Military Operations Research Society.

Gene Kranz
Gene Kranz began his aeronautic journey in the USAF as a F-86 pilot, with a tour in Korea. Back in the US, he joins the early space program and becomes one of the first and most iconic NASA’s flight directors, in charge for famous missions such as Gemini 5, Apollo 11, Apollo 13 and what would become the last mission on the moon in a while: Apollo 17. He will eventually become NASA’s mission operations director before retirement. His leadership in the Mission Operations Control Room has made substantial difference between life and death in time critical situations under high political pressure.

Retired Capt. Guy Gruters
Capt. (Ret) Guy Gruters served as an O-1 forward air controller followed by service as an F-100 Misty Super FAC. He flew 400 combat missions positively identifying and coordinating the prosecution of hundreds to enemy fighting positions. While on patrol, Capt. Gruters was shot down over hostile territory and held POW for 1,912 days. As a POW he provided care to Lance P. Sijan, facilitated command and control, and taught other prisoners tap code communication. Capt. Gruters exemplified heroism, honor, perseverance, and strength.

Retired Lt. Col. Tim “Rhino” Bennett
Retired Lt. Col. Tim “Rhino” Bennett was selected as an Eagle for his outstanding contributions to airpower. He flew F-15Es on active duty in the United States Air Force and flew F-16s in the South Carolina Air National Guard. He is a Desert Storm veteran and served in two major conflicts in two different fighter aircraft. He is attributed to being the pilot of the first air-to-air kill in the F-15E…using an air- to-ground weapon. His span of experience provides insights into ways combat airpower improved throughout his career over multiple deployments, providing many lessons to today’s aviators.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula
Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula was selected as an Eagle for his significant contributions to air and space power. He was instrumental in the planning and execution of Desert Storm operations using effects- based planning, and masterminded “Global Reach, Global Power,” the Air Force’s first Service-wide mission statement since it was established as a separate military branch in 1947. As the Commander of Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Operation Northern Watch, he flew over 80 combat missions. Post-retirement, he continues to serve, shape, and impact air, space, and cyber power through his role as the Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Retired SFC Clifford Newman
Retired SFC Clifford Newman was selected as an Eagle for his outstanding contributions to airpower as a Special Forces Team Leader. He led the first combat high-altitude low opening jump in U.S. history. Due to a lack of time, resources, and trained personnel, the innovation involved was essential to making it a successful mission. Additionally, he volunteered for Bright Light missions, requiring him to control close air support and Covey pilots to support troops in contact, extracting WIA/KIA.