Too often we are unaware of history, especially our living history that exist right under our noses but escapes our conciousness. This month, Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers, 63, will retire from the U.S. Air Force. Not only is he the military’s longest-serving active-duty general, he is also the longest-tenured active-duty service member in the Air Force, and the longest-serving active-duty African American in the six-decade history of the Defense Department.
Growing up a poor African American from the South, he didn’t have many career opportunities to choose from and like many joined the military as a way to escape the tobacco fields of his youth. When Flowers was born, his grandmother brought him home in a shoe box and sat all night by the wood stove to keep him warm. By the age of 10, he went to the tobacco fields with the adults, “cropping” leaves by hand and was raised in a tin roof house with no running water and bathed in a large metal washtub.
Since then Flowers has served for 46 years, first as an Air Force warehouseman, then in Vietnam, and eventually to his current job at the Pentagon, where he is the Air Force budget director. Serving in this capacity as deputy assistant secretary for budget, Flowers is responsible for much of the Air Force’s roughly $119 billion annual budget.