African Americans Owe Much to Past Achievers, General Says
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 26, 2006 African Americans who reach high ranks in the armed forces are "standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and accomplished great things," an Army general told an audience of high school and college students at the Defense Department's African American History Month observance at Huston-Tillotson University here.
Army Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle tells the audience at the Defense Department's African American History Month observance luncheon at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, that he and other African Americans who reach high ranks in the armed forces are "standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and accomplished great things." Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle told the story of meeting a young black soldier in Kosovo who was shy and withdrawn. Rochelle said he asked the soldier his name and where he was from. The soldier said he was from Virginia and the general responded, "I'm from Virginia," and asked the soldier where in Virginia. The soldier said he was from the Tidewater area - Norfolk. The general said, "I'm from Norfolk," and asked the soldier where he was from in Norfolk.
"Sir, you wouldn't know where I'm from in Norfolk," the soldier responded. The soldier named the projects where he grew up and the general told him that he grew up in the same projects.
"The point of that story is the reason why we celebrate Black History Month," Rochelle said. "I used to think that the reason we celebrated Black History Month was to draw the attention of the general population to the wondrous and many great things that African Americans had done over many, many centuries, starting in Africa."
During his nearly 34 years of Army service, the general said, he has been honored and pleased to participate in Black History Month celebrations all across the world.
"The older I get, hopefully, the wiser I become, the more I realize that the reason we truly celebrate Black History Month is so that we can hold up for ourselves to enliven, embolden and enrich ourselves on what those who have gone before us have achieved," said Rochelle, a graduate of Norfolk State University, one of more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Huston-Tillotson, co-sponsor of the DoD observance.
"We hold up the accomplishments because it helps to embolden and encourage ourselves, and, hopefully, our progeny as well," Rochelle said.
He said today's successful African Americans in DoD got where they are "because we're standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and who have accomplished those great things." The general said retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, for example, was speaking to a group of Buffalo Soldiers and told them, "I'm standing on your shoulders."
The general told the students that among a host of others, he's standing on the shoulders of the Montford Point Marines, the first African American Marines during World War II, five of whom were in the audience as special guests during the observance. He challenged the students to learn about those who have gone before them and to make themselves ready to help those who will follow.
"If you don't know whose shoulders you're standing on, nor why they were elevated to the position that they were, you can't really appreciate what you have," he said, to thunderous applause.
More applause erupted when he asked, "Whose shoulders are you standing on? More importantly, for whom are you preparing your shoulders?"
Rochelle, the third director of the Army's Installation Management Agency, heads the largest field operating agency in the Army, responsible for the management of 179 Army installations worldwide, more than 75,000 military and civilian personnel and an $8 billion annual budget.