|Delaware Military History
Ernest G. Talbert
Ernie Talbert was the first black man promoted to the rank of general in the 350-year history
of the Delaware National Guard.
As a boy, Ernest Talbert wanted to be a railroad engineer or a neurosurgeon. His grandfather
discouraged him, saying those professions were closed to black people. Then, he decided to be
an airplane pilot.
Brigadier General Ernest G. Talbert was the Vice Commander, Delaware Air National Guard.
General Talbert received his commission as a Distinguished Graduate through the Reserve
Officer Training Corps in 1972. He earned his pilot wings in 1973 from Williams Air Force
Base, Arizona and was then assigned to Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina where he
few the C-141. General Talbert began his Delaware Air National Guard career in 1979 as a
C-130 pilot. He later served as the 142nd Airlift Squadron Commander, 166th Operations
Group Commander, 166th Airlift Wing Vice Commander and 166th Airlift Wing Commander.
General Talbert is a Command Pilot with over 6500 hours in the C-130A, C-130E, C-130H,
C-141A, T-37, T-38 and T-41.
History-making, barrier-breaking general concludes Delaware Air Guard career
by Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
166th Airlift Wing, Delaware Air National Guard
1/16/2009 - NEW CASTLE, DELAWARE --
Brigadier General Ernest G. Talbert, a lifelong Delawarean, has retired from the Delaware Air
National Guard after a career that took him to Southwest Asia as a C-130 aircraft pilot in
1991 during Operation Desert Storm, as the 166th Airlift Wing vice commander during the
launch of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and as the wing commander in 2002 leading
the unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
General Talbert officially retired as Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Delaware ANG, at the Air
Force rank of brigadier general, the first colonel and first and only general in the over
350-year history of the Delaware National Guard who is an African-American. His military
career spanned 36 years, with 30 years service in the Delaware ANG, which he joined after
prior service in the U.S. Air Force.
At his military retirement on Jan. 11, 2009, Gen. Talbert was presented the Legion of Merit
and the Delaware Conspicuous Service Cross, each a second award. Gen. Vavala joined Gen.
Talbert's wife, Richelle, in pinning on a second general's star, an honorary rank of major
general recognized within the state, allowed members of the Delaware National Guard after at
least 25 years of service.
"General Talbert has had a career of firsts," said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, Adjutant General of
the Delaware National Guard. "He is a pace-setter, a role model and a champion of change. He
was the first African-American to attain the rank of colonel and the first to become a general
in our Delaware ANG. I'm not proud of the fact that it took such a long time to achieve this
distinction, but what I am proud of is that it is Ernie Talbert who made that history. And
through this shattering of the glass ceiling, many more will follow Ernie in an era of equality
and justice in our organization." Gen. Vavala continued, "In an ideal world, we would notice
only Ernie's achievements themselves, not his skin color. But the perceptions of too many
Americans, both black and white, have been distorted by racial stereotypes that began
centuries ago in our Colonial times. To succeed, Ernie had to excel in performance. He did
that and more."
Brigadier General Hugh Broomall, Deputy Adjutant General for Air, Delaware National
Guard, said, "Ernie Talbert's career is the clearest proof we have in the Delaware National
Guard that outstanding performance merits ever higher positions of leadership. Delaware and
the nation should be proud of Gen. Talbert's career contributions, including his mentoring of
dozens of Airmen, his wartime combat service and leadership, and his steadfast devotion to
those who serve in the Delaware National Guard and wear the uniform of the U.S. military."
In a message to fellow Airmen, Gen. Talbert said, "It has been an extreme privilege to have
served in the Delaware ANG with all of you. I wish you Godspeed, and thank you for your
continued service to our great nation and state."
He said his life lessons and philosophy were, "Believe in God; do unto others what you
would have done unto you; do the right thing; value friendships; and look to the poems 'If'
by Rudyard Kipling and 'Invictus' by William Ernest Henley for inspiration."
General Talbert added that his life goals were, "To serve, as this is the rent we pay for the
privilege of living; to have a positive and life altering effect on a child and society; and, to
leave the world a better place."
Major Jeffrey Cooper, retired, a former maintenance commander and inspector general in the
166th Airlift Wing, said, "General Talbert's distinguished career has served as a beacon of
hope, for the possibility of continued upward mobility for the African-American Airman in
the Delaware ANG. Gen. Talbert is a trailblazer and will forever be remembered and referred
to as an example for what is possible, if you have the fortitude, drive and perseverance to stay
the course, regardless of the odds. Gen. Talbert's success can not be quantified, and is only
marginalized if attached to an award or decoration. The true measure of his success is reflected
in the many different faces that make up the Delaware ANG today. The strength of the [unit]
is rooted in the diversity of its members." Maj. Cooper spoke of the mentoring that many
Airmen of all ethnic and racial backgrounds had received from Gen. Talbert, calling him a
godfather to fellow members.
Major Cooper read each of the poems at Gen. Talbert's Jan. 9 retirement dinner.
Kipling, born in India in 1865, was a champion of the British Empire. The last stanza of "If"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings -- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run --
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son!
Henley, a British poet born in 1849, wrote "Invictus," Latin for unconquered. The last stanza
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
A product of the Delaware public school system, Gen. Talbert dreamed of flying in his youth.
He attended New York University and became a pilot his junior year, graduating from the
ROTC program as a distinguished graduate with a B.A. in economics in 1972. He entered
undergraduate pilot training, earned his pilot wings in 1973, and was assigned to Charleston
Air Force Base, S.C. where he flew the C-141 jet transport aircraft.
Gen. Talbert had never heard of the Delaware ANG, or known a military flying unit existed
at the local New Castle Airport until a serving member mentioned the unit to him and a small
group of active duty Airmen as they considered future career steps.
In 1979, he joined the Delaware ANG as a part-time, "traditional" guardsman, and worked on
obtaining a M.B.A. from the University of Delaware, graduating in 1983.
He began full-time ANG service in 1984, becoming the unit's first federal technician tactics
officer, then a C-130 aircraft instructor pilot and pilot flight examiner, progressively serving
among other operations positions. In 1996 he became the commander of the 142nd Airlift
Squadron. In 2000 he served as the ANG detachment commander and operations officer of a
joint ANG-active duty provisional airlift squadron supporting Operation Joint Forge in the
Balkans and elsewhere in Europe during the unit's first Aerospace Expeditionary Force
deployment, and as commander of the 166th Operations Group. That year the wing was
selected to receive the National Guard Association distinguished flying unit award.
In 2002 Gen. Talbert became the 166th Airlift Wing commander, overseeing the largest
mobilization effort in the wing's history for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi
Freedom. He directed the wing's recovery from the effects of a 2004 tornado that severely
damaged several C-130 aircraft, and then led the wing and 34 other units in the largest to date
Air Mobility Command Expeditionary Operational Readiness Inspection. He relinquished
command in 2005 to become chief of staff, Delaware ANG, where he worked on plans to
establish a National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program in Delaware, and helped manage
continued unit support for Special Olympics Delaware.
General Talbert has numerous association and civic relationships. He is president of the John
Porter Chapter (Dover, Del.) of the Tuskegee Airmen; executive board member of the
Delmarva Boy Scout Council, youth leadership subcommittee member of the City of
Wilmington HOPE Commission; and past president of Delaware's General Bill Spruance
Chapter of the Air Force Association.