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Local son continues Tuskegee family tradition

Senior Airman John Oswell Walker II, a radio frequency transmission system technician with the 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron, represents another generation in his family with the opportunity to add a chapter to the Tuskegee Airmen history -- his great uncle, Mr. James E. “Muscles” Wright, was also a Tuskegee Airman.

Senior Airman John Oswell Walker II, a radio frequency transmission system technician with the 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron, represents another generation in his family with the opportunity to add a chapter to the Tuskegee Airmen history -- his great uncle, Mr. James E. “Muscles” Wright, was also a Tuskegee Airman.

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- A 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Airman has a direct family tie to the original Tuskegee Airmen. His great uncle was an instructor pilot who taught the cadets who would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen how to fly.

Senior Airman John Oswell Walker II, a radio frequency transmission system technician with the 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron, joined the Air Force in 2006.

The Melbourne, Fla., native's ties to the military are deep. His parents both served in the Air Force. In addition, Airman Walker can easily name over twelve family members who have served or are currently serving in the military.

The most notable of these is his great uncle, James "Muscles" Wright, who was part of a mostly African American cadre at Moton Field, Ala.

After arriving here, it came as a surprise to Airman Walker that he was following in the footsteps of his great uncle almost 60 years later.

"I had no idea that this place was dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen until my newcomer's briefing," he said.

Outside of the pride his family feels for Airman Walker's service, they're also happy he's representing another generation with the opportunity to add a chapter to the Tuskegee Airmen history.

"I think it's tremendous that three generations of our family have kept the tradition of service to our country," said Airman Walker's father John, a retired Air Force master sergeant who currently works in the Patrick Air Force Base commissary.

"John is following in the footsteps of his trailblazing great uncle, and we couldn't be prouder of him," Mr. Walker said.

While Wright was a student at Georgia State College, modern-day Savannah State University, he enrolled in the civilian pilot program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

After becoming a civilian pilot-training officer contracted by the military, he was exempted from the military draft and could not join the Army Air Corps. His main mission was to train the aviation cadets at Tuskegee.

Wright earned the nickname "Muscles" because of his ability to push around an airplane by himself when the job required two people. More importantly, many of the Tuskegee cadets credited their success to Wright and other instructors who worked tirelessly to instill flight discipline and see each cadet through the program.

Nearly 1,000 of those cadets earned their wings and officer commissions in the Army Air Corps. More than 400 would experience combat over the skies of Europe. They made up the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons that eventually formed the 332nd Fighter Group.

American bomber crews called them the "Redtail Angels." This was because of their bright red-painted tail assemblies and their disciplined defense of bombers from enemy fighters. They also participated in air-to-ground attacks on enemy targets both on land and at sea.

Sixty-six Tuskegee Airmen were killed in action, while another 32 became prisoners of war. The pilots earned more than 150 major awards and distinctions, including Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, Legions of Merit, and a Presidential Unit Citation.

Airman Walker's great uncle passed away in 2008 at the age of 92. Before his passing, the Atlanta Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen traveled by bus to Mr. Wright's home to present him with a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.

The 332nd Fighter Group was inactivated in 1949. In 1998, the 332nd was reactivated as an air expeditionary group.  The unit moved to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in February 2004, as the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. Currently, it is the most forward deployed combat wing in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As a member of the 3rd Communications Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, this is Airman Walker's first deployment. He said the Air Force gives him many options for his future.

Ultimately, he would like to complete his undergraduate degree, before his enlistment is over. However, with his family history, he has not ruled out a future in the Air Force.

"I wanted to protect and serve," said Walker. "At first, I considered being a police officer, but after reviewing the benefits, the grand scope of the mission that the military holds, and considering my family history, it seemed that all roads pointed to the Air Force."

"They say I'm continuing his legacy on two levels, through (family) blood and mission," he said.

With a rally cry of "The Legend Continues," one current 332nd AEW member embodies that motto in more ways than one.