DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. --
His story was one of the highlights of the convention.
He served in Italy during World War II and fell in love with an Italian woman whose father would not let them marry. Sixty years later, in 2005, she showed up at his doorstep in New York City. She carried with her a pair of cufflinks. The cufflinks belonged to her father, who just before he died, asked her to give them to the man he knew she had always loved, "Dabney."
Dabney Montgomery is an Original Tuskegee Airmen who was born in Selma, Ala. in 1923. At 19, he joined the Army and became a member of the 1051st Quartermaster Company. I met Dabney the first night I arrived in Las Vegas, Nev., for the 38th Annual Tuskegee Airmen National Convention held Aug. 5-9. There was something special about his spirit, his presence, that drew me to him. At 86-years-old, he still gets around pretty well.
Dabney and I talked for four hours in the lobby of the Palace Station hotel where the convention took place. I learned that Dabney served as a bodyguard for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the five-day March for Freedom from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965. I also learned that he had known King and his wife Coretta for years. He met them in Boston, Mass., while Coretta studied voice and King worked on his Ph.D. in Theology.
I also learned that Dabney is the historian of Mother Zion AME church in Harlem, N.Y., which played a pivotal role as a stop during the Underground Railroad, a network of secret passages and safe houses used to help slaves escape to free states during the 19th Century. I learned and laughed and learned and cried and learned and laughed some more during my conversations with Dabney and others throughout the convention.
Eighteen Airmen from Dobbins attended the convention as part of the 94th Airlift Wing's Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) outreach program. HRDC assists Reservists with human resources and development issues, recruitment, retention, diversity, professional development and equal opportunity treatment.
It was a convention of firsts. We got the chance to meet and witness Stayce Harris, the Air Force's highest ranking African American female aviator, pin on brigadier general. We met the first African American female aviator in the Coast Guard, Lt.j.g. Jeanine McIntosh-Minze. We met the Marine Corps' first African American female combat pilot, Vernice Armour. We met the first African American female Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Reserves, Cheryl Adams.
Finally, we met 15 year-old Kimberly Anyadike. In July, she became the first African American female to pilot a single-engine Cessna plane cross country solo and picked up scholarships from Tuskegee University and Virginia State along the way. Kimberly said in an interview with the L.A. Times that she did not take the historical flight to become a celebrity but to, "inspire other kids to really believe in themselves."
The 18 Airmen who attended the conference from Dobbins contributed in every way imaginable. We served the Original Tuskegee Airmen during the youth lunch. We were VIP escorts during General Harris' pinning ceremony. We volunteered with 200 children during youth day. We stuffed bags and helped people register for the conference. We did any and everything the organizers needed us to do.
However, none of the aforementioned events would have been possible without the steadfast support for HRDC from our wing commander, Colonel Heath Nuckolls, our vice wing commander and HRDC committee chairman, Colonel Joseph Thomas, and our HRDC outreach committee chaired by Master Sgt. Carl VanDiver from the 700th Airlift Squadron.
Next year the convention will be in San Antonio, Texas, and the HRDC plans to take another group of motivated Airmen from Dobbins. Although the conference lasted for four days, the memories will last a lifetime.
To learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen visit www.atlantachaptertuskegeeairmen.com
. Master Sgt. Floyd Stanfield from the 94th Maintenance Group is the president of the local Atlanta Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen. To find out more about how to become involved with the HRDC, call the 94th Equal Opportunity Office at 678-655-5042.