The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is saluting enlisted personnel with a new permanent exhibit, paying tribute to service members who have been long been regarded as one of the American military’s greatest competitive advantages.
Senior Air Force and Space Force leaders gathered at the museum Thursday evening to welcome the exhibit and thank enlisted members for their service.
Enlisted personnel are not merely participants in national defense, said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, the Air Force’s highest-ranking enlisted member.
“They are,” she said, “architects of history.”
No single museum exhibit can do justice to the contributions of enlisted personnel, said Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force John Bentivegna, likewise Space Force’s highest-ranking enlisted member.
But Bentivegna, in what he said was his first visit to the museum, came away impressed.
“This is powerful,” he said. “It really is.”
The exhibit is spread out in more than 40 locations across the museum, highlighting the roles enlisted members have filled.
Bryan Carnes, a museum research curator and third-generation Air Force enlisted member, long admired the museum. But, like others, he said he felt the contributions of enlisted members were perhaps under-represented.
The idea is to highlight what the museum called “the highly skilled, trained, and talented enlisted force that has been the backbone of daily operations of the U.S. Department of the Air Force throughout its 76-year history.”
Here, museum visitors will see carefully crafted homages to Air Force maintainers working in humid heat and frozen conditions, supporting the Air Force Thunderbird aerobatic team or rescuing downed airmen — and much more.
“We tried to capture the many roles the enlisted force fills, but you and I both know, we can’t tell every story,” Carnes said.
Any idea that enlisted personnel lack training or education has been long outdated, if it was ever accurate. Fully 60% of Air Force enlisted personnel have had some college training, as of September 2021. Twenty-two percent of the force have associate degrees, 10% have earned bachelor’s degrees and 2% have a master’s.
Fully 80% of the active-duty Air Force are enlisted.
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Before his public remarks, Bentivegna agreed that new officers and enlisted personnel alike depend on non-commissioned officers, experienced enlisted personnel who complement the officer corps and help keep units functioning.
“They partner with the officers and civilians to get the mission done that they have to do,” Bentivegna said.
He added, “We all have a team concept.”
As of fiscal year 2023, the Space Force — the newest military branch, formed in 2019 — had more than 14,000 military and civilian Guardians. Just under 4,300 of them are enlisted.
The entrance to the museum is on Springfield Street at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base gate 28B in Riverside.
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