In the same family business for more than 65 years

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
My family has been in the same business for more than 65 years now. It started with my grandfather in 1941. He handed it off to my father in 1976 and my father handed it to me in 2001. 

Some families run restaurants or bakeries. Some families own and operate their own auto shops or construction businesses. My family business is the Air Force. 

My grandfather, Harvey Leon Haynes, was a Tuskegee Airman and a member of the Doolittle Raiders back in World War II. He served in the Army Air Corps and later in the Air Force for a total of 30 years. 

The majority of those years were during a time when he wasn't even allowed to enter a movie theater through the front door simply because of the color of his skin. 

Still, he and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen and others like them served this country with pride and dedication so their children and grandchildren could be free from the discrimination they had to endure. 

Decades after the original 332nd Fighter Group, the first group comprised of African-American pilots, was inactivated, here I am the second in my family to be called a Tuskegee Airman. I'm currently deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, and assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Air Wing. For the second time, a Haynes is serving overseas, far from home, friends and family, fighting a war. 

While I was inprocessing at Balad AB, Brig. Gen. Burton M. Field, the 332nd AEW commander, told a story about Gen. Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., one of the first commanders of the Red-Tailed Angels, the nickname given to one of the most successful bomber escort groups in World War II. General Field shared with us a story about General Davis attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During General Davis' entire four years at the Academy, he was the only African-American in attendance and his classmates refused to talk to him. 

When I think about what he had to go through, it makes me feel like whatever obstacles I'm facing aren't so insurmountable. When I feel like giving up, or half-heartedly doing a job, I think of my grandfather and the original Tuskegee Airmen. Where would I be if they had just given up? For that matter, what kind of state would our country be in if they had given up when things got hard? What if they hadn't exemplified the core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do? 

When I think of my grandfather, General Davis and all of the Tuskegee Airmen of the past, present and future, it makes me proud to be called a Tuskegee Airman. 

It makes me want to bring the same credit to the name. I want to continue the legacy of excellence and perseverance so I can make my country and my family proud. I want to make my fellow Airmen proud to serve alongside me in this war and beyond. 

Even though my grandfather passed away, I would like to think I am making him proud by my service. I think of him often, especially when I have to make a decision. I ask myself, "What would Papa think?" 

Even though I can't talk to him anymore, his memory and his spirit affect me every day, even more so since I joined the Air Force. He makes me realize the legacy really does continue and it doesn't stop with us. 

Who knows, maybe one day my grandson or granddaughter will be writing a commentary of their own about how proud they are to be a Tuskegee Airman -- the next generation of the family business.

February is African-American History Month.