Crowds of Eagles
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum (second from right) speaks to members of the Moody Air Force Base 41st Rescue Squadron standing alongside their HH-60G Pavehawk combat search and rescue helicopter June 8 during Air Command and Staff College's Gathering of the Eagles event. Cornum, who was a prisoner of war during the Gulf War, was one of 14 featured guests in the ACSC program that promotes distinguished aviators as part of an air power legacy elective. Cornum's husband Kory (red shirt middle) looks at the Pavehawk. Pictured beside Cornum is Dr. Mudhafar Kaboush (right). Cornum's arms were broken during a helicopter crash before she was captured. Kaboush is the Iraqi surgeon who provided medical care to Cornum during her captivity. Kabousch was Cornum's special guest for the GOE activities last week. It was the first time their paths have crossed again since she was a POW. He now lives in California. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wendy Simonds)
Eagles gather at capstone event

by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs

6/15/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.  -- Heroes of aviation from around the country gathered this week at Maxwell Air Force Base to share their stories with students at the Air Command and Staff College.

The 31st Gathering of Eagles, sponsored by Air University, is a capstone graduation event for the ACSC that brings together historic aviators to share their history with the next generation of Air Force heroes.

The genesis of the GOE can be traced back to retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, who was invited to speak to students at the ACSC in 1980. Tibbets was the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb.

Shortly after that, in 1982, a group of ACSC faculty and students were charged with developing an aviation heritage program. That year the first Gathering of Eagles was held, featuring 15 distinguished aviators from different countries and services, each making a unique impact in history.

This week, 14 new Eagles took to the stage, giving a living biography of their life, service and contribution to air and space power. The Eagles also participated in a dinner hosted by Alabama Power at the Montgomery Zoo, various luncheons and the ACSC ball at the end of the week.

The event is a unique opportunity for the students selected to participate in the program. Each one is assigned an Eagle and travels to that Eagle's hometown to compile a biography for the person according to Maj. Beth Horine, the director of public affairs for the GOE team.

"The Gathering of Eagles program is an elective at Air Command and Staff College; the only elective that requires an interview. The commandant and his team hand pick the 15 students who will run the program for the year," Horine said. "Each student researches potential Eagles to invite to be a part of the program."

Being chosen to work with the program is an honor for the 15 students selected. Horine described it as "humbling" and "awe inspiring."

"At the welcome reception when we first met this year's Eagles our team lead said it well, 'It is surreal. A whole year of work, research, heart and soul learning about these people; It takes your breath away,'" she said. "It's very humbling and just a true honor."

The event isn't just an honor for the students.

Tech Sgt. Robert Gutierrez was part of a team that carried out a high-risk mission to capture the No. 2 Taliban leader in the region. The team was attacked and Gutierrez was shot in the chest, but continued to fight the enemy.

His valorous actions during the four-hour battle helped save the lives of his teammates as well as weakening Taliban in the region. Gutierrez, who was honored this week as an Eagle, said he felt humbled to be in this group of incredible aviators.

"You really can't describe it in words. Look at me, I am in the company of heroes right now, and not just heroes, history. These are the great men and women who have sacrificed for our nation," he said. "Being here is a distinct honor because I could never imagine myself in the same category. I'm just a regular tech who had a good fight that night. It's an honor and pleasure to be here, and I feel blessed to represent my career field, the Air Force, in this fashion."