Saturday, April 30, 2011

Luke Air Force Base

Luke Air Force Base Air Show, March 2011 (photo by Elenia Sotelo)
Luke Air Force Base Air Show, March 2011 (photo by Elenia Sotelo)

Northern Avenue and Litchfield Road, Glendale, AZ

Located at the corner of Northern Avenue and Litchfield Road in Glendale, Arizona, for over 70 years Luke Air Force base has been an integral part of the west valley in Phoenix, AZ.  Located at the outskirts of Glendale, Arizona, Luke AFB began its construction in 1941 after Army engineering scouts visited the west valley of Phoenix and leased the land from the state government at one dollar a year beginning in March 24th, 1944, a common practice in Arizona trust land.  Since its inception Luke AFB has provided some economic stability to neighboring cities.  In 2008, state official conducted a study of Luke AFB and the military industry and the economic effect on the state.  It was reported that Luke AFB generates upwards of 9 billion dollars annually.  Though not without its share of controversy, Luke AFB has been a staple in Arizona’s history.
Luke AFB was named after Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr, a white World War I pilot. Frank Luke was a Medal of Honor recipient that flew various missions during World War One.  Nicknamed the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” Lt. Luke scored 18 aerial victories against German troops, 14 of those German observation balloons.  During a mission in Germany, Lt. Luke’s plane was shot down, and was killed at age 21.  The first class of fighter pilots began on June 6th, 1941 with Captain Barry Goldwater serving as commander.  Today, Luke AFB sits between Glendale and El Mirage, Arizona and is the main training sites of the military F-16 fighter jet.  The training location also helped the integration of pilots during World War 2 when Tuskegee Airmen relocated to Arizona along with other white pilots for training.  Tuskeegee pilots have had their own history of equality as before the Tuskegge Airmen were formed, black men were considered not brave or intelligent enough to be successful pilots.  The Tuskegee Airmen would be awarded hundreds of military awards and medals such as:  150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 8 Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars, one Silver Star and one Legion of Merit. Another significant achievement by the Tuskegee Airmen is that they never lost a single plane to enemy fire.
Luke Air Force base was also home to a Tuskegee Airman that would become a significant Arizona civil rights leader.  Lincoln Ragsdale was a Tuskegee Airman who, along with his wife Eleanor, ended housing segregation in the Phoenix Encanto district. Together with other prominent black and Mexican-American leaders, the Ragsdales were integral in bringing civil rights laws to Arizona, brought political power to ethnic minorities within Arizona and helped promote unity between blacks and Hispanics at the time of racial tension in Arizona.  The history with civil rights and Tuskegee Airmen came full circle with the honoring of the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006.  The week-long ceremony concluded with awarding the fighter pilot group with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor a US civilian can attain. An Air Park was dedicated to the pilots, although the location could not be found on the Luke Air Force base website; five of the Tuskegee Airmen still live in Arizona today.
Today Luke Air Force base has drawn criticism from a neighboring city called El Mirage. Although for most of Arizona, Luke AFB has been a positive,the nearby city of El Mirage had found living today with the base difficult.  Built by Mexican farm workers in 1934, and becoming a city in 1951, El Mirage has suffered the most from noise pollution brought on by the  F-16 jets.  Although Glendale, AZ receives payment from the base for the noise, El Mirage receives none, this is mainly due to El Mirage’s refusal to accept payment.  Due to the size and training need that Luke Air Force base occupies, El Mirage is also heavily restricted from building and expanding their city. 
- Tomas Robles, Elenia Sotelo, and Susie Haslett

Sommers, Willie. Arizona's State Trust. n.d. (accessed April 25th, 2011). Tuskegee Airmen. n.d. (accessed April 25th, 2011).


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