COMACC named Honorary Tuskegee Airman

  • Published
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

After 38 years of dedicated service to the United States Air Force, Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, was named an honorary Tuskegee Airman and presented with the prestigious Red Tail Jacket, Feb. 27.

Before, during and after WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the Red Tails, were an elite group of African American Airmen and pilots serving under the Army Air Corps. The Red Tails faced insurmountable prejudices and discrimination while serving with distinction in combat and exceeding expectations as they flew and maintained the P-51 Mustangs. 

During his tenure as COMACC, Kelly prioritized recognition of the original Tuskegee Airmen and their accomplishments. In January 2022, he unveiled a commissioned plaque acknowledging the 332nd Fighter Group’s accomplishments at Nellis Air Force Base, honoring the Tuskegee Airmen in perpetuity. Additionally, in September 2023, he renamed the William Tell F-15 award the “Lt. Col. James Harvey Award,” honoring one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and members of the winning Gunnery Competition team from 1949. 

 “It’s an honor to wear this jacket,” Kelly said. “It’s a huge symbol that has so much rich history with it, but to receive this red jacket that represents their service and commitment is beyond humbling … Skill and valor notwithstanding, I’d argue the deeper meaning of the red jacket is a more profound distinction. The distinction between men who took ‘no’ for an answer and men who fought until ‘yes’ was the answer.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. T.J. Spann, president of the eastern region Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., thanked Kelly for his service and support over the years. 

“General Kelly is being honored with a Red Tail Jacket and voting rights as an Honorary Tidewater Chapter Member for numerous reasons,” Spann said. “We thank him for his honorable service to the country first but also for always being at the ready to share the Tuskegee Airmen message with whomever he encounters.”

This once-in-a-lifetime accolade reflects Kelly’s thousands of hours in the air, and decades of service leading Airmen and continuing to pave the way.

“Our Air Force is the most feared and revered Air Force in the world because of the men who wore these red jackets in the past, men and women who wear them today, and all those who will ever wear them in our long future,” Kelly said. “As your newest honorary Tuskegee Airman, I promise to always advocate for your great legacy and wear this red jacket with the humility and honor it deserves.”