By Jennifer L. Warren
WAPPINGERS FALLS – Jumark Baxter holds the trailblazer Tuskegee Airmen in awe for their revered, special characteristics he hopes to one day replicate.
“The Tuskegee Airmen are responsible for integration in the military, something just so incredibly inspiring,” said Baxter, a freshman at Poughkeepsie High School. “I never knew how planes- heavy things like that- got into the air before joining this Program.”
Baxter is referring to the Red Tail Youth Flying Program, who has assisted both he, along with hundreds of other Hudson Valley teenagers, develop a more clear-technical grasp of that aviation wonder. Named for the Tuskegee Airman, one of the many who persevered through blatant, horrific racism in their own country as African American pilots, proving how “Hard work, courage and commitment can crush obstacles,” 1st Lt. Lee “Buddy” Archer, Jr. the Red Tail Program, which has been evolving each year developed a chief purpose: To mentor youth in aviation and aerospace careers. That seed, now 25 years old has sprung into something huge.
“We have c-reated an aviation mentoring ecosystem from elementary school through aviation careers as well as a world class level learning about the Tuskegee Airmen legacy,” explained Glendon Fraser, Board President of the Red Tail Youth Flying Program. That aviation microcosm includes; a newly developed Red Tail segment at the Newburgh Armory, Partnership with Dutchess Community College, Capstone Career Scholarship Program along with a host of summer camps and internship opportunities.
In total, over 1200 students have felt the indelible imprint of these life-transforming, local, aviation programs. Three hundred of those students have been awarded a total of $300,000 in scholarship monies assisting their further studies. Saturday night, inside of the Villa Borghese, that financial assistance recognition tradition continued, as 2024 recipients were recognized at the Annual Assistance Award Celebration. This year’s scholarship honorees, each of whom displayed the trademark traits of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen included: Duvaun Douglas, Diamond Copeland, Reagan Roth, Tyler Beadle, Bryghton Narain, Khalia Moore, Olushade Torres and Megan Torres. Speaking on behalf of this year’s remarkable 2024 Class, was Abigail Fontana, Lee A. Archer Jr. Red Tail Class Commander.
“This Program does not just build pilots, but leaders,” affirmed Fonatna, who aspires to continue her passion for aviation, first ignited by her attendance at the Red Tail Summer Camp Academy in 2021, by attending Purdue University and pursuing a pilot’s license. The Washingtonville High School Senior continued to describe what it means to be a part of the Red Tail Flying Program. “This is a true family here; we lift each other up and support one another.”
That familiar piece was evident in the presence of the guest speaker for the evening. Cadet First-Class Miguel A. Connell, who now attends the United States Air Force Academy where he studies Aeronautical Engineering while instructing at the 94th Flying Training Squadron as a glider instruction pilot. An alumnus of The Red Tail Flying Program, Connell was quick to cite the potent impact it had on his life and career path.
“My professional journey started right here; I could not have done it alone,” said an emotionally visible Connell after a video segment of his recent Air force promotion was shown to all in attendance. “For so many of us you have inspired those dreams just like the one I had and continue to follow, getting out of comfort zones , realizing it’s okay to fail just as long as we learn from it; part of the Tuskegee Legacy is to continue that trying and be better than we were before.” Connell added, “Not everyone who belongs to this program has to or needs to fly; they instill so many other lifelong skills, such as creativity and problem solving.” Reflecting further on his journey, Connell concluded, “Flying wasn’t the only skill I honed, it has also been engineering; the point is you take the incredible Tuskegee Legacy in whatever way you want-need to in this Program, because it’s really always been about developing character.”