National Museum of the US Air Force opens new exhibit honoring the enlisted force

US Space Force | Jan. 3, 2024

By Lisa M. Riley

Image of the Maintainer portion of the enlisted exhibit. In the front is a vertical clear case with a cold weather work uniform in it and behind it is a series of vertical panels with images of maintainers on them. Behind it is the nose of the C-124 aircraft.
The Enlisted Maintainers element in the Korean War Gallery of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is part of the Enlisted Force Exhibit. The exhibit contains nearly fifty elements placed throughout four buildings and ten galleries of the museum. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

DAYTON, OHIO: The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force has completed installation of a new exhibit highlighting the Department of the Air Force’s enlisted personnel.

The Enlisted Force Exhibit is the museum’s newest permanent exhibit. It honors the highly skilled, trained, and talented enlisted force that has been the backbone of daily operations of the U.S. Department of the Air Force throughout its 76-year history.

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, JoAnne Bass, was keynote speaker for the opening of an Enlisted Force Exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on November 9, 2023. In the photo Chief Bass stands at a lectern in her blue uniform.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass delivers a keynote speech for the opening of an Enlisted Force Exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, November 9, 2023. The exhibit, which contains nearly fifty elements, is placed throughout the four buildings and ten galleries of the museum. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

To mark the exhibit opening, the museum hosted a private ceremony to honor exhibit contributors, museum staff and volunteers, and other special guests including Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass, Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force John F. Bentivegna, and former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and Air Force Museum Foundation Vice Chair Gerald R. Murray.

“The men and women of our enlisted corps are not merely participants in the chronicles of our nation’s defense, but they are architects of history,” Bass said. “Our heritage is rooted in the ideals of integrity, service and excellence—a tapestry woven with the threads of sacrifice and valor.”

Today, enlisted airmen and guardians represent approximately 80% of the Department of the Air Force and provide a solid foundation for operations in air, space and cyberspace.

The Enlisted Force Exhibit took more than three years to develop and contains more than 40 elements that are thoughtfully placed throughout the museum at locations near the era or artifacts that correlate to their specialty.

Elements of the exhibit include:

-A display in the WWII Gallery featuring the story of Staff Sgt. James Meredith, one of the first Black airmen to serve in an all-white squadron

-An introduction to Enlisted Maintainers who work in all conditions at all hours to troubleshoot urgent repairs, overhaul complex systems and closely inspect parts to prevent future problems in any number of areas including aerospace propulsion, electrical systems, weapons systems and more

-Insight into Musical Ambassadors who serve as musicians, arrangers and audio engineers in the U.S. Air Force bands, providing inspirational performances to honor veterans and connect the public to the Department of the Air Force through music

-The uniform worn by Sgt. Benjamin Fillinger, one of 15 airmen from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who transferred into the U.S. Space Force in 2020. Space Force guardians are top performers in the fields of information technology, cyber security, communication systems and space systems operations

“Today’s Space Force is small. It’s just like the museum when it started as an engineering study collection—very small,” Bentivegna said. “But Guardians are creating our Space Force history every day. And one hundred years from now, the Enlisted Exhibit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air and Space Force will be overflowing with that history that we’re making today.”

The display shows the roles of Airmen past and present through photographs and video. Six mannequins display uniforms of Airmen from 1918 to 2019 and include a WWI mechanic, WWII Public Affairs Specialist, Cold War Police Officer, Southeast Asia War Flight Engineer, Persian Gulf War Aerial Gunner and Global War on Terrorism HALO Parachutist.
This grand display of the Enlisted Force stands in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s Kettering Hall as a tribute to the backbone of the Air Force. The display shows the roles of Airmen past and present through photographs and video. Six mannequins display uniforms of Airmen from 1918 to 2019 and include a WWI mechanic, WWII Public Affairs Specialist, Cold War Police Officer, Southeast Asia War Flight Engineer, Persian Gulf War Aerial Gunner and Global War on Terrorism HALO Parachutist(U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

The Enlisted Force Exhibit is open to visitors daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

This new exhibit was made possible by generous contributions from the Air Force Museum Foundation (Federal endorsement not implied).

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the world’s largest military aviation museum. With free admission and parking, the museum features more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles, and thousands of artifacts amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year thousands of visitors from around the world visit the museum. Visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil for more information.