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Tuskegee Airmen inspire youth and veterans in Northern Nevada

Retired Army Air Corps Lt. Cols. Robert Ashby and Theodore Lumpkin deliver a
message of self-confidence and perseverance to Traner Middle School students
on Feb. 28. Ashby and Lumpkin are original Tuskegee Airmen who came to Reno
for the formal announcement of a new western region chapter, named after
original Tuskegee Airman George W. Porter who passed away in Feb. 2013. The
Tuskegee Airmen  were the first African-American service members allowed into
flight training and flew over 15,000 combat missions during World War II.
Photo by Maj. Dennis Fournier, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

Retired Army Air Corps Lt. Cols. Robert Ashby and Theodore Lumpkin deliver a message of self-confidence and perseverance to Traner Middle School students on Feb. 28. Ashby and Lumpkin are original Tuskegee Airmen who came to Reno for the formal announcement of a new western region chapter, named after original Tuskegee Airman George W. Porter who passed away in Feb. 2013. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American service members allowed into flight training and flew over 15,000 combat missions during World War II. Photo by Maj. Dennis Fournier, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

RENO -- It didn't take long for the audience to warm up to military members of our greatest generation as young people and the young at heart welcomed two of the original Tuskegee Airmen here in Reno on Feb. 28. Retired Army Air Corps Lt. Cols. Robert Ashby and Theodore Lumpkin Jr. regaled students at Fred W. Traner Middle School and patients at the Veteran's Hospital with stories of personal achievement and bravery during an era of segregation and exclusionism. Their message; believe in yourself and persevere.

Retired Lt. Col. Larry Jackson, Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Western Region President kicked off the conference by formally announcing the establishment of the George W. Porter chapter during a reception at the Nugget. Jackson spearheaded the effort to showcase the new chapter in the community.

"Tuskegee Airmen Inc. allows us to enhance our youth outreach program and increase visibility in the community," Jackson said. "Our programs are designed to promote the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen through community outreach, and we inspire excellence and pass this baton on to our young people."

In his address to students at Traner Middle School, the George W. Porter chapter president and Nevada Air Guardsman, Senior Master Sgt. Torry Thompson, expressed his appreciation for the original Tuskegee Airmen who made the trip to Reno to dedicate the new chapter and speak to students and veterans.

"One thing that gives us a great sense of pride is to be able to bring original Tuskegee Airmen with us for our outreach events", Thompson said. "We are very blessed to have them with us today."

Ashby was a pilot in the 332nd Fighter Group, the first black flying group during World War II and recalls a segregated U.S. military where African-Americans were relegated to labor battalions, which consisted of truck drivers, cooks, and laundry attendants.
"When it became clear that the U.S. was about to go to war, the Civilian Pilot Training Program was established in 1939 at a few colleges including Tuskegee Institute," Ashby said. "Tuskegee graduated its first class in 1942, and by 1946 had graduated almost 1000 pilots."

Lumpkin served as an intelligence officer during the war and is also an original Tuskegee Airman. He noted that much of the focus of the Tuskegee experiment was on aviation, but that the program included a variety of military careers.

"The Tuskegee experiment was set up to fail, but everyone involved put forth maximum effort and helped one another," Lumpkin said. "For every pilot, there are roughly 15 support people behind the scenes who make up the nearly 15,000 Tuskegee Airmen."
Tuskegee Airmen Inc. consists of 57 chapters across the U.S. with 14 chapters in the western region.

George W. Porter, the namesake of the newest chapter in Reno, spent 23 years in the Army Air Corps and Air Force as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer in the Tuskegee Airmen. After retiring from military service, he devoted the rest of his life to telling the story of heroes who broke down racial barriers in the military and opened doors to a better future for all Americans. Porter, 91, died on Feb. 9, 2013.

Tuskegee Airmen aviators ultimately served in combat roles during World War II, and flew over 1,700 sorties shooting down over 150 enemy aircraft.