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Military to the Fore of King Day Observances

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 1997 – The military has been in the forefront since the beginning of global observances of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, said Steve Kline.

"Military organizations and chaplains of all faiths hold observances on every base in the States and overseas," noted Kline, of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta.

Military bands, color guards, marching units and many individual service members play major roles in King holiday observances across the nation and around the world. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis J. Reimer is a prime example of the kind of military support the King observance receives, Kline said.

"When Gen. Reimer was stationed in Atlanta, he and his wife attended all of the King Week observances," Kline said. "He was really a staunch supporter of the observance."

All services conduct King observances. For example, each year, Army equal opportunity offices have special programs honoring King. Chaplains normally hold religious services on the Sunday after King's birthday, Jan. 15, instead of on his actual birth date, said an spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains Office.

"The Navy and Marine Corps work [together in] the Martin Luther King Jr. observance," said Marine Corps spokesperson Capt. Pat Johnson. "Last year, the Marine Corps handled the King holiday observance and the Navy handled Black History Month. This year, the Navy will handle the King holiday observance and send out flyers, posters, e-mail and will sponsor an exhibit."

Department of Defense dependents schools overseas have a variety of activities focused around Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and times, said Marilee Fitzgerald, chief of staff of the school system.

"Social studies classes have activities during the week of his birthday ranging from dramatic performances involving portions of Dr. King's life to special assemblies," Fitzgerald said. "We have a lot going on, but all schools don't do the same things because of the different sizes of the school."

Lloyd Davis, former executive director of the defunct Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, said, "The military services have always been sensitive to the holiday observance and have appreciated the challenge and opportunities it affords for reaffirming faith in the basic ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity.

"The secretary of defense was always very supportive and established the Military Involvement Committee to assist us," Davis said. "Representatives from military services, including the Coast Guard, served on the committee. We asked DoD to use the annual theme to motivate, inspire and educate its people."

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