We’ve had our share of important Army guys in this countdown, and some standout naval references. We’ve even touched on Alabama’s contributions to our journey off the planet. But, without question, Alabama’s greatest contribution to the nation’s defense is located in Montgomery, at the Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base; and specifically what it houses there — the Air War College, also known as “Air University”. It also has the much unwieldier full title of “Air University and Staff College,” but they all refer to the same installation.
Founded in 1946 as one of just six war colleges, the AWC is the intellectual home to those who rule the modern battlefield: the commanders of the sky. In addition to training military and civilian commanders, graduate students, industry and think-tank leaders, scholars-in-residence, distance education, — even clergy — the Air War College also hosts the frank, often-contentious National Security Forum, one of the preeminent roundtables for issues related to international security and the role of air superiority. Nor is the university the exclusive home to America’s aerial elite. The AWC also trains allied air commanders in modern doctrine, strategy, and tactics. Just last year, the Air University honored 18 international alumni trained at Air University who had attained a rank equivalent to at least the Chief of Staff of their respective air forces.
This venerable institution lies under a cloud though. Owing to the poor quality and funding of the state’s public schools, there is significant strain between the War College personnel and the city, resulting in more and more people leaving their families behind. The War College is also regularly criticized as a waste of taxpayer funds. But, with Senator Shelby heading the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Air Force already stressed by inadequate staffing and budgets relative to its mission, Air University is not apt to go anywhere anytime soon.
Routine grousing aside, nor is the War College’s duty station likely to be defunded, given the world’s pivot to the heavens. As with its Air University alumni, AFB Maxwell’s list of alumni is a who’s who of America’s aeronautic and astronautic history. Among the 12,500 active duty personnel at Maxwell, include the trainees for America’s astronaut program. And its many alumni are heavy hitters of the space program. Victor Glover has been tapped to be the Commander of the first Dragon Heavy manned crew. Col. Alvin Drew, was the mission specialist of the shuttle program’s final mission and the 200th person to perform a space walk. Former Atlantis commander Col. (ret) Donald McMonagle, logged three trips to space, was tasked to manage the next generation of post-shuttle EVA craft, and became the head of mission management at Kennedy Space Center — the person with final launch authority. And many, many more.
From the ashes of the post-War world, to exploring the eternal void above our heads, AFB Maxwell and the Air War College have served as waystations for many of the world’s most influential aviators. Their role in training those who protect the United States, those tasked with power projection, and those who will become the next generation to leave this planet, has been critical to the success of the United States — even if frequently ignored by those passing its gates every day.
Sadly, one of the most powerful Alabama institutions is also one of its most overlooked and underappreciated.
There are now just four days until football season.