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Camp named after retired Air Force pilot

By CHARLES D. BRUNT | Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 20, 2015

On a spring day in 1974, Alvin Drew was sitting in his sixth-grade class at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Washington, D.C., when – just minutes before recess – he was handed a questionnaire that asked “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

“Without a moment’s reflection, I scrawled onto it, ‘To look up from my workplace and see the curvature of the Earth from space,'” Drew said Monday at the University of New Mexico’s Centennial Engineering Center.

Thirty-three years later, Drew was doing exactly that as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour – the first of his two shuttle missions.

The retired Air Force colonel was in Albuquerque for a ceremony in which he formally lent his name to the annual “space camps” sponsored by the Albuquerque-based Gen. Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.

The Tuskegee Airmen were made up of the about 900 black fighter and bomber pilots who trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama from 1942 through 1946. More than 400 Tuskegee Airmen served overseas, flying patrol and strafing missions, and serving as bomber escorts from bases in North Africa and Italy.

The airmen not only proved they were capable of flying state-of-the-art fighters, but also collectively ushered in an era of desegregation of the U.S. military.

In March 2007, Congress awarded the Tuskegee Airmen a Congressional Gold Medal.

“The Tuskegee Airmen were heroes to me when I was growing up and were every bit as important as astronauts or the combat rescue guys in Vietnam. Folks in those three communities were giants in my eyes,” Drew, 52, said after Monday’s ceremony.

Drew said when Lt. Col. Winston Campbell approached him about lending his name to the space camp, he didn’t hesitate. Campbell is chief of the Responsive Space Branch of the Operationally Responsive Space Office at Kirtland Air Force Base.

“These are high-caliber people working with the camp,” Drew said. “I was happy to put my name on that.”

The camps, which are free to participants, are designed to draw youngsters ages 14 through 17 to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers.

Each summer, about 25 students attend the nine-day space camp, conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s La Luz Academy at Kirtland Air Force Base.

The camp instructs students in the basics of physics, rocket design and astronomy. Besides building and launching their own rockets, they take field trips to the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory, NASA’s White Sands Test Facility and New Mexico Tech’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory.

Drew spent nearly 13 days in space on his first shuttle mission making improvements to the International Space Station and delivering about 5,000 pounds of supplies.

t was Endeavour’s 20th flight and the astronauts traveled 5.3 million miles during the mission.

Drew returned to the space station in February 2010 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on a 13-day mission – again making improvements to the orbiting lab.

In his 25-year Air Force career, Drew flew more than 3,500 hours in 30 types of aircraft, both helicopters and fixed-wing. He flew combat missions in Panama, the Persian Gulf and Iraq.

For more information on the local Tuskegee Airmen chapter or the space camps, visit tai-albuquerque.org online.

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©2015 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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