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Award-winning history team turns pages into power

  • Published
  • By Brian Dietrick
  • Air Force Materiel Command

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – It is often said that if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it. The Headquarters, Air Force Materiel Command History and Heritage Directorate not only learns from history, they weaponize it.

"We decided to weaponize the archive," said Yancy Mailes, AFMC History and Heritage Director. “Our team uses things we've been writing for years to influence the leadership decision process."

This warfighter-mentality tactic has earned them the 2024 Department of the Air Force Excellence in Major Command History Program Management Award. This award recognizes outstanding and exemplary historical services that improve organization effectiveness, esprit de corps, and combat capability.

Weaponizing and operationalizing history involves embedding historical insights into current Air Force operations, according to Mailes. The team dissects past triumphs and tribulations to create smarter strategies and more effective tactics.

“History is not merely about preserving dusty records,” Mailes said. “It’s about leveraging history as a tool for informed decision-making. History is actually lessons learned, if you use it the right way.”

A strategic redesign of the AFMC history office mission in 2018 centered around three core functions: weaponizing the archive, operationalizing history, and inspiring and educating Airmen. Mailes said this new approach has yielded remarkable results, but it all starts with his small but mighty team.

"It all starts with the people," Mailes said. “I let people go and do their thing, and there is very little course correction because this team is so good."

This culture of trust and empowerment has fostered innovation and excellence within the team, allowing them to continue to drive the initiative forward.

Ray Ortensie, AFMC History and Heritage Deputy Director, believes a significant milestone that helped them achieve this award is the acquisition of the Sarah Clark collection. The collection is considered a treasure trove of aviation history from 1917 to the 1950s.

“Getting the Sarah Clark collection is a big win for us and the aviation community," Ortensie said. “It’s 60,000 boxes of historical aviation archives. We will weaponize it by making it digital and accessible for the entire aviation community.

As guardians of the AFMC's rich legacy, the team is dedicated to both preserving our past and shaping our future. Their efforts encompass a spectrum of activities, from meticulously maintaining records to orchestrating heritage outreach events and crafting and distributing historical publications throughout the enterprise. They ensure that the stories of courage, innovation, and dedication are not just remembered but cherished.

“This award is a reflection of the entire AFMC History and Heritage Program,” Mailes said. “There are folks in the field doing very good work and they are just as determined as we are so this award is bestowed on them as well.”

Additional award winners across the AFMC enterprise were also announced. The Air Force Heritage Award was awarded to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for their Enlisted Force exhibit, and the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, won for their ICBM exhibit. The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments by the Air Force History and Museum Programs personnel to foster better understanding and appreciation of their service, its history, and its accomplishments, while building esprit de corps.