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New museum to inspire Airmen

  • Published
  • By Maj. CK Keegan
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
Two Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland museums, The Airman Heritage Museum and the Security Forces Museum, will consolidate into the Enlisted Heritage and Character Development Center by October 2014 and will serve as a stepping stone into a larger $50 million, privately-funded museum set to open in 2017.

Both the interim facility and the new multi-million dollar building will be accessible to the public and have a role in the education of every new Air Force recruit going through basic military training.

During the final week of basic, trainees will have classes in the center, meet wounded warriors, navigate scenarios, learn from veterans, and see 60 plus years of tradition in one building.

"The center is a part of an Air Force leadership initiative to build character and resilience in Airman by emphasizing positive role models," said Gary Boyd, Air Education and Training Command historian. "One of the most effective means to this end is to reinforce character by leveraging the stories, challenges and examples of successful Airmen who exemplify Air Force core values."

History has shown those Airmen who embodied the core values became more resilient and then inspired others with their sacrifice and service, he said.

Chief Master Sgt. Gerardo Tapia, AETC command chief, expects the center to instill pride, character and resilience through use of interactive exhibits, reenactments, and special guests to inspire and instruct students. The center will have veterans engage students in scenarios and provide insightful lessons learned from experience.

"We want to leverage the wealth of knowledge available here in San Antonio," said Tapia. "We have distinguished veterans and wounded warriors who can speak from their experiences to instill pride and wisdom into our future Air Force leaders."

Since the museum is open to the public, he expects the museum to have impact on visiting family members as well as the general public. As an example, Airmen and visitors walk through displays where either a veteran or actor will describe an event in history, and then solicit inputs. The guide then teaches a lesson learned from the event.

"The Air Force's history reaches back to 1907 and our leaders and heroes have fought in countless battles and actions while becoming one of the most powerful forces the world has ever known," said Tapia. "This center is where the public can learn of our resilient Airmen who have paved the way for success the last 100 years."

Some of the people who most exemplify the character traits being infused into our Airmen are the wounded warriors, said Tapia, who has visited several hospitals.

"These Airmen overcome obstacles put in front of them, dust themselves off, and then become a driving force behind our Air Force. They are battle hardened for the rest of their lives and incredible individuals," said Tapia.

The chief hopes these individuals will take on a large role at the center, instilling their pride into the future of the Air Force.

One such Airman who will be highlighted at the center is Staff Sgt. Henry Erwin. Erwin was a 23-year-old radio operator aboard a B-29 Super Fortress on a mission over Japan in 1945 when a phosphorus flare exploded in the launching chute and shot back into his face. Completely blinded, he knew he needed to get the flare out of the aircraft. Feeling his way from the gun turret to the copilot's window, he held the flare between his arm and rib cage while the phosphorus burned him to the bone. He threw the flare out of the window and collapsed on the floor, somehow staying conscious during the flight and asking about the crew's safety. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Erwin endured 41 operations and was permanently disfigured by burns, but he spent his life inspiring Airmen by emphasizing how many of them would have done the same thing.

"An Airman who leaves Lackland, does so on the shoulders of giants. Heritage will remain a part of all we do in AETC and the larger Air Force," said Tapia. "Embracing the past builds the resiliency to face the future."

The future 85,000 sq. ft. center, will be built on the north end of the Lackland parade field, and is a joint venture between the Air Force and the Airman Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is a private, non-profit organization chartered to raise funds to design, build and equip the new center slated for completion in three years.

"We are honored to have been entrusted with the awesome responsibility of providing the Air Force a venue to pay tribute to the proud heritage, tradition of honor and legacy of valor of our enlisted men and women," stated retired Col. Jaime Vazquez, president of the Airman Heritage Foundation.

To learn more about the center and how to be involved, visit the website at