Airpower legends honored at Air University event

  • Published
  • By Billy Blankenship
  • Air University Public Affairs

Air University is hosting the annual Gathering of Eagles event on campus 24-26 May, 2021.

Offered as an elective course as part of the Air Command and Staff College experience, GOE provides students the chance to meet with aviation and military legends and learn from their previous experiences.

“The GOE experience is a great opportunity for our students,” said Col. Lee Gentile, the commandant of ACSC. “Their interactions with airpower greats gives lessons that will travel far outside of the classroom.”

Culminating the ACSC academic year, the Eagles descended on campus to engage in social and academic opportunities with students, faculty and civic leaders.

  Several students had the opportunity to meet the Eagles in person earlier this year as part of the invitation process.

“That experience was transformative,” said Maj. Caitlin Reilly, an ACSC student who spent time with astronaut Col. Nick Hague. “You get to pick the brains of someone who has been there and done it, challenged themselves and succeeded while surviving things they shouldn’t have. It made such a huge impact on me, and I know it will when he comes and spends time with other students.”

The Gathering of Eagles was established when retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, a pilot of the Enola Gay and former Air Command and Staff College student, was invited in 1980 to visit the school to share his story with a handful of students and faculty. That engagement blossomed into the modern program, which is now an annual ACSC capstone event.

“It wasn’t required of me to take this elective,” said Maj. Darko Pavlovic, an ACSC student from the Montenegrin Air Force, whose initial meeting was with retired Lt. Col. Harold Brown, a Tuskegee Airmen.  “Hearing his stories and learning from his was great motivation for all of us. I was so impressed with his knowledge and memory, especially of the details of when he was a prisoner of war. I’ll take this interaction and those that I had with my fellow students and the whole experience until the end of my life. It was a really precious experience for me and made this part of my life much more successful because I participated.”

This year’s cohort of Eagles includes those selected in 2020. The gathering was cancelled then because of the pandemic. 

The 2021 Eagles:

Retired Gen. David Goldfein
Goldfein is a command pilot with more than 4,200 flying hours. In 2016, he became the 21st chief of staff of the Air Force. In 1999, his F-16 was shot down over western Serbia during Operation Allied Force. During his evasion, he came within 30 feet of several Serbian soldiers and had to maneuver through minefields to evade capture. Goldfein retired after 37 years of service in 2020.

U.S. Space Force Col. Tyler “Nick” Hague
Hague is a 1998 distinguished graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2013. Following training he was selected for Expeditions 57 and 58 to the International Space Station. Shortly after launch, a rocket booster failed on the Soyuz-10, causing Hague and his crew to abort the mission mid-flight. He is the third person in history, and the only American, to ever accomplish an in-flight rocket abort, earning him the 2019 Jabara Award for Airmanship. He successfully launched to the ISS in 2019, completing Expeditions 59 and 60 with 203 days in space. 

U.S. Army retired Lt. Col. Marcella Hayes Ng
Hayes Ng became the first black woman in the United States military to earn her aviator wings when she completed helicopter flight training at the United States Army Aviation Center in 1979.  Later, she commanded the 49th Transportation Battalion, retiring as the Corps Support Command inspector general in 2000. 

Tuskegee Airman and retired Lt. Col. Harold Brown
Brown is an original Tuskegee Airman who flew with the famed 332nd Fighter Group in WWII.  He graduated from the Tuskegee Institute's segregated pilot training and commissioned in the Army Air Corps in 1944. Brown flew combat missions in the European theater and was a POW. Brown retired in 1965 and has experience flying more than 20 different aircraft. 

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Wayne Norrad
Norrad is considered “The Godfather” of combat control. His combat experience includes deployments in Thailand, Cambodia, Operations Just Cause and Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Norrad served as a senior enlisted advisor at the squadron and group levels, culminating in his final appointment as the senior enlisted advisor to the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.

The 2020 Eagles

Retired Gen. John Jumper
Jumper is a command pilot with 5,000 flying hours, 1,400 combat hours, 18 Air Medals and three Distinguished Flying Cross Medals. He was the 17th chief of staff of the United States Air Force, serving from 2001-2005. He had a vision and passion for integrating resources to better support warfighters and shorten the “kill chain.” He was a critical advocate for remotely piloted aircraft and arming the RQ-1 for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Maj. Gen. Jeanie Leavitt
Leavitt is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, including over 300 combat hours in the F-15E, T-38A, AT-38B and T-37.  She is the Air Force’s first female combat fighter pilot and first female fighter wing commander. Leavitt was the first female commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. She also commanded the Air Force Recruiting Service and is currently serving as the director of operations and communications at headquarters Air Education and Training Command.

Retired Maj. Gen. Donald Sheppard
Shepperd commissioned into the Air Force in 1962. During his seven years of active duty service, he flew 247 combat missions in Southeast Asia, 58 of those missions were as a “Misty” forward air control pilot and was hit 13 times. In 1969, Shepperd left active duty and joined the Air National Guard. After serving in multiple capacities within the organization, he was appointed as the director of the Air National Guard in 1994 until his retirement in 1998. Shepperd was a command pilot with nearly 5,000 hours in fighters throughout his military career.

Mr. James “Snake” Clark
Clark, is the director, Q Group, Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability, deputy chief of staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.  In a career spanning five decades, his innovative talents and determination enabled numerous tactical and strategic capabilities, which shaped the modern day Air Force. Known as the “Godfather of the MQ-1 Predator,” Clark was a determined advocate in the Predator’s early stages. He enabled adding AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to the platform in 2001, development of the remote operations video enhanced receiver allowing unparalleled situational awareness on the ground, and the eventual momentum for growth of the remotely piloted aircraft community and capability. His advocacy contributed to the first combat deployment of the Predator in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. 

Retired Col. Dave “Bubba” Jenny
Jenny entered the Air Force in 1964. During his 28-year career as a fighter pilot, he flew over 5,000 hours in 10 different aircraft, including the F-100, A-7, A-10, F-16, and F-117. He was one of the few “Misty” pilots of Vietnam, and like many of his squadron mates, was shot down in July 1968. From his time flying in combat with Col. Bud Day, Jenny went on to be one of the first pilots in many of the Air Force’s newest aircraft. This culminated with his selection to the highly classified F-117 program.

Retired Lt. Col. Russell Tharp
Tharp earned his commission from Officer Training School in 1969. He started his career as a C-130 mobility pilot where he flew operations in the U.S and in over a dozen countries in the Pacific, which included flying the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975. From there he served a few years as a Signals Intelligence Officer with the Security Service before being recruited as a Special Operations pilot. It is in his time as a Special Operations pilot that he pioneered tactics and techniques that were implemented in the attempted 1980 Tehran hostage rescue and later became normal operating procedures for Special Operations pilots. He retired from active service in February 1990. 

Retired Lt. Col. Sam Galloway
Galloway earned his commission from Officer Training School in 1970. He was deployed to the Far East flying combat missions in South Vietnam. During one operation, his crew was tasked with an airdrop resupply at An Loc, where his aircraft was hit with anti-aircraft fire. Despite damage to the aircraft, the crew successfully returned to base. His action led to him receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. Following this assignment, he returned to instruct initial candidate navigators. It is from this assignment that Galloway was recruited to the MC-130E Combat Talon I and became the assistant chief for MC-130E schoolhouse. While there, he was chosen as the lead navigator to deploy to Tehran for the 1980 Tehran hostage rescue effort.

Col. Kim Campbell
Campbell manually piloted her severely damaged A-10 back to base after providing ground support for troops in contact over Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. For her actions, she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. She is currently the chair of Airpower Innovation and Integration, Department of Military and Strategic Studies at the United States Air Force Academy. She served as an Air Force Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and military assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Maj. Heather “Lucky” Penney
Penney was one of the first female pilots to go directly into fighters from pilot training and was assigned to the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard to fly the F-16C. On Sept. 11, 2001, Penney scrambled with an unarmed aircraft in defense of the National Capital Region in search of Flight 93. In her military career, she flew the F-16, including two combat deployments during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the C-38 in support of Special Airlift Missions.

For more information about GOE and to watch videos of the student experiences during their visits with the Eagles, visit