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Recap of the 2024 Luncheon to honor the Gathering of Eagles Montgomery Air & Space Forces Association Chapter 102

The Wynlakes Country Club Ballroom was "buzzing" this past May 9th, as the Montgomery Air & Space Forces Association (AFA) Chapter 102 hosted a most memorable luncheon that honored six notable aviation and space legends, the "Eagles". These Eagles were selected by the 2024 Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) students. ACSC is the lead organization for the Gathering of Eagles (GOE) the program that selects and hosts the Eagles.

The GOE idea began in 1980, when retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets (Enola Gay pilot) visited ACSC. During his visit, he shared his remarkable experiences with the ACSC students, which then sparked an interest to hear first-hand from other trail blazers. The first official GOE event, initially known as "Great Moments in Aviation History," took place in 1982. A small ACSC faculty and student group was chartered to develop this aviation heritage program, encouraging the study of aviation history and celebrating the contributions of aviation pioneers. This annual aviation event continues to honor the legacy of airpower, and now space and cyber power, as it helps inspire future leaders.

The GOE luncheon is another avenue for closer interaction between the River Region communities and Maxwell AFB. Over 150 guests gathered to enjoy fellowship and get to meet and visit with these living legends. The 2024 Eagles included:

1. SFC (Ret) Clifford Newman, a Vietnam Special Forces team leader. As well as controlling close air support to aid troops in contact, he also led the first combat high-altitude low opening jump in U.S. history.

2. For 50 plus years, Lt Gen (Ret) David Deptula's served the USAF. He was a key in Desert Storm's planning and execution. He flew 80+ F-15 combat missions while the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Northern Watch Commander. He continues to shape air, space, and cyber power as the Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies for the Air & Space Forces Association.

3. Lt Col (Ret) Tim "Rhino" Bennett flew combat sorties in both the F-15E and F-16. He has the first, and only, air-to-air kill in the F-15E using an air-to-ground weapon!

4. In Vietnam, Capt (Ret) Guy Gruters flew 412 combat missions as a Forward Air Controller in both the O-1 Bird Dog and F-100 Super Sabre, coordinating attacks on hundreds of enemy positions. On one perilous mission, he was shot down and held POW for 1,912 days. As a POW, he cared for Medal of Honor recipient Capt Lance P. Sijan as well as leading and teaching his fellow prisoners tap code communications.

5. Dr. Natalie Crawford is a Senior Fellow and Distinguished Chair for Air and Space Policy at the RAND Corp. She excelled in many roles, most notably as Vice President and Director of Project Air Force. Twice, she earned the Air Force's Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service. Dr. Crawford also earned the Air Force Analytic Community's Lifetime Achievement Award, the Lt. Gen. Glenn Kent Leadership Award, and the Vance R. Wanner Memorial Award from the Military Operations Research Society.

6. From May 2020 to June 2022, Gen (Ret) Jeffrey Harrigian served as the United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Commander. Also, he concurrently served as t the commander of Allied Air Command and director of the Joint Air Power Competence Center. With over 4,100 hours in the F-22, F-15C, A/OA-37 and MQ-1, he was also instrumental in the development of the F-22 and F-35. A combat-tested warrior, he flew in Operations Just Cause, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve, Atlantic Resolve, and Allies Refuge.

The luncheon was opened by Chapter President Scott Key, Col USAF (Ret). Rick Plaskett, Lt Col USAF (Ret), sang the National Anthem, followed Bishop R. Lawson Bryan's invocation. Larry Carter, Col USAF (Ret) worked tirelessly to create a one-of-a-kind video presentation that recognized each of the Eagle's contributions. Col Matthew Berry, the ACSC Commandant, provided remarks on the lasting impact of these Eagles and their interaction with the current ACSC students. Even after the luncheon ended, and t's usual to see people exit quickly, GOE Luncheon guests and Eagles continued to visit and exchange stories, putting an exclamation mark this event's impact on the guests.

The AFA Chapter 102 would like to extend a special thank you to the many sponsors. Their support was instrumental in the luncheon's success. Thank you to PowerSouth for being the Presenting Sponsor.

Thanks also go out to the Platinum Sponsors; First Command, Servis 1st Bank, and the City of Montgomery. Also, thank you to the Gold Sponsors; MAX Credit Union, Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, Southeast Cherokee Construction Incorporated, Troy University, and Industrial Partners, LLC.

While this event is complete, there is plenty of action in the "wings"! An AFA Community Partner Appreciation Luncheon is set for 10 September at the Maxwell Club. The invitation is open to the community at large; look for the reservation link soon at . For information on becoming a Community Partner, link to . The information is at the bottom of the web page. Have a great summer!


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