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The support crews
The group that is collectively known as the Tuskegee Airmen includes more than the 992 pilots that trained in the Tuskegee program and became officers. It also includes the over 14,000 personnel that were trained to provide critical operational support to the pilots and their aircraft. This training took place at Tuskegee, but also in Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Georgia, and Wisconsin.
Some were officers, like the men who trained to be navigators and bombardiers on bomber aircraft, but most were enlisted men and women without whom the program would not have succeeded. Many endured the dangers of war alongside the pilots, and all served in a segregated military that, at the time, limited their opportunities to serve their country.
Because the Tuskegee facility was not ready for them when they needed to start training, the first group of flight support personnel for the Tuskegee Airmen trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois. The program left Chanute for Tuskegee in late fall of 1941.
Members of the ground crew of the fighter squadron of the 15th U.S. Air Force in Italy place a loaded wing tank on a P-51 Mustang before the group takes off on another mission escorting bombers over enemy targets. The squadron uses the auxiliary fuel tanks for long distance flights. Left to right: T/Sgt. Charles K. Haynes, S/Sgt. James A. Sheppard, and M/Sgt. Frank Bradley.