TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
To honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, an all AAPI aircrew with the 552nd Air Control Wing from Tinker Air Force Base, flew a heritage mission and training sortie over Oklahoma and Texas on May 25.
This marked the first time Tinker’s flying wings have ever had an all AAPI crew, and the crew is comprised of Airmen across all flying squadrons of the 552 ACW.
The sortie had 31 members from six different squadrons providing them with multiple training events for the duration of the flight.
“You all bring a rich culture and heritage and that diversity of thought is what brings us together and strengthens us as the world’s most dominant Air Force, to create air power competition for our enemies that helps us maintain leverage against them,” said Col. Gary Donovan, 552nd Operations Group commander. “Diversity provides a unique dynamic within our wing to make us a well-balanced group collectively.”
Col. Alain Poisson, 552nd ACW commander agreed adding, “I think this is a fantastic example of our Air Force. There are many cultures in the wing, but we really have one voice — we are celebrating diversity. Go out there, have fun, celebrate your culture as part of the larger melting pot that is the Air Force.”
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a long history of service in the U.S military that inspires those currently serving.
There have even been units comprised entirely of AAPI members. The 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team was the most decorated unit in the U.S. military of its size and length of service. The 407th Air Service Squadron and the 987th Signal Company were units of Chinese Americans who supported the Flying Tigers in the defense of China against the Japanese in World War II.
Lt. Erika Santos, an air battle manager with the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron said this heritage flight is important.
“We want everyone to know we exist and we exist in this military,” said Santos. “We are getting there, but there is still a lack of minorities in the Air Force. We have an entire crew of Asian cultures including Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Koreans — all these other cultures under the Asian umbrella. I love the diversity that Asian cultures bring and I want to share it. We are Asians, but we are also Americans.”
Santos comes from a military family. Her dad was in the United States Navy, and her great grandfather and uncle were members of the Philippine Air Force, so service is in her blood.
She isn’t the only one with a military family.
Maj. Justin Albano with the 960th AACS has a grandfather who was in the U.S. Army. After his family moved to Hawaii, his dad joined the United States Air Force.
“It is important to show the presence we have in the military,” said Albano. “I think people would agree that military is a big step to answer the call to serve the country, but it makes a huge impact.”
Highlighting the achievements of past and present service members is an important part of Air Force culture because it promotes inclusivity throughout the Wing and honors a rich legacy.