'Share Your Service Story': Commissary, exchange patrons can compete for scholarships honoring historic Tuskegee Airmen commander
FORT LEE, Va. – The history of the Tuskegee Airmen speaks of the bravery, dedicated service and demonstrated skills of African-American fighter pilots during World War II.
In observance of Black History Month, commissary and exchange patrons will be eligible to enter a social media contest that honors the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen commander, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would later become the Air Force’s first three-star general.
Through the “Share Your Service Story” contest, sponsored by Coca-Cola in partnership with the USO and Mondelēz International, authorized commissary and exchange patrons can tell their military service story or that of a family member for a chance to win one $5,000 scholarship or one of three $1,000 scholarships. Winners may transfer their prize to a family member or other person. For more information on contest rules, go to Coca-Cola’s “Tell Us Your Story” webpage.
To enter, authorized participants must submit their stories on either Twitter or Instagram from Jan. 30 to March 2. The submission must include a photo or video (maximum two minutes in length) using the hashtag #ShareYourServiceStoryContest. Military resale patrons will see contest displays in their local commissaries and exchanges.
“Gen. Davis’ historic career is an inspiration to us all, being the commander of the illustrious Tuskegee Airmen and the military’s second African-American general,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka O’Neal, senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director. “It’s an honor for us to engage in a program that acknowledges him and his pilots, and allows our military community to share their service stories and compete for scholarships.”
The “Tell Us Your Service Story” contest is Coke’s way of giving back to the military sales channel, said Michael R. Pelletier, Coca-Cola North America senior shopper, marketing manager. He feels the contest is part of a company mindset that goes back to former Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff. He built 64 bottling plants throughout the theaters of operation during World War II, so that all service members could have Cokes for a nickel – no matter where they were in the world.
“Anyone from Coca-Cola who touches the military channel and supports the military channel feels a sense of servitude and we’re proud to serve those who serve,” Pelletier said. “We feel a program such as ‘Tell Us Your Service Story’ enriches the lives of our service members and their families. A program like this supports education and helps bring together the military community.”
Davis is the son of Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., noted in history as the first African-American general officer in the U.S. military. Living up to his father’s legacy didn’t seem to bother Davis Jr. His military career is marked by several historic achievements of his own:
- He is the fourth African-American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
- In 1938, Davis graduated from the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and later assumed duties as professor of military science at Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama.
- In May 1941, he entered advanced flying school at Tuskegee Army Air Base and earned his pilot wings in March 1942.
- Davis first became commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron in May 1942, and later the 332nd Fighter Group in October 1943. The combat record for this group of African-American pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, is legendary: They flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 112 enemy aircraft, and the pilots were awarded 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, eight Purple Hearts and 14 Bronze Stars.
- Davis was promoted to brigadier general in 1954, making him the nation’s second African-American general officer. He would go on to make lieutenant general before retiring from active service.
- His awards and decorations include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters and the Philippine Legion of Honor.
- On Dec. 9, 1998, President Bill Clinton advanced Davis to general and pinned on his four-star insignia.
“We are telling General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.’s story because there was a Coca-Cola connection that the family told us about,” Pelletier said. According to an interview with Davis’ great nephew, Doug Melville, published in the Feb. 15, 2020, edition of Family Magazine, Davis would pass out Cokes to his men during World War II after successful missions.
“This program (Tell Your Service Story) will only be run in the military channel, and therefore we’re trying to give service members and their families a reason to shop inside the gate vs. outside the gate,” Pelletier said, “by infusing the commissaries with amazing displays that connect with consumers in meaningful ways during Black History Month.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., poses for a photo next to his plane during World War II as a colonel commanding the Tuskegee Airmen. For more photos, go to the agency's Flickr page. (Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.