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Colonel Compares Iraqi Elections to U.S. Civil Rights Movement

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2005 – The Jan. 30 Iraqi elections mirrored America's march toward civil rights, an Army commander said during the African-American History Month observance on his base earlier this month.

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Army Col. Thomas W. Williams addresses the audience during an African-American History Month observance at Fort Belvoir, Va., where he is garrison commander. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Iraqi voters have responded to the "challenge for democracy and freedom," just as African-Americans did "to be who we are today and be able to make the contributions that we make each and every day to this great country," said Army Col. Thomas W. Williams, garrison commander at Fort Belvoir, Va.

People didn't think the Iraqi elections would work because "there was a lot of stuff on TV that said bombs are going off, (improvised explosive devices) are out there, and nobody is going to go to the polls," he said.

But that's not how it played out in Iraq on Jan. 30, he noted. "Bomb goes off, people jump under the table, jump behind rocks, then, when they thought it was safe, they got back in line and voted," Williams said.

Likewise, with terrorism posing a threat to our way of life, "we have to wake up and remember that victory is fleeting, and people do want to take away those things we have built in this country," Williams said.

Building on the example of successful Iraqi elections, Williams challenged students in the audience to "make a difference" when they reached voting age. Past civil-rights struggles for integration and opportunity are "what we've gone through to get the right to be able to go to the polls and vote to make a difference in a country we helped build," he noted.

Williams reminded the audience that Americans -- black, white, Asian, Indian, Hispanic and a host of other ethnicities -- have come together and are serving the country around the globe. He also singled out the can-do spirit of a special group -- the wounded servicemembers being treated at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

"Our country today is served by volunteer Americans," Williams emphasized. "Many of them are without arms, legs, and they're happy to be American with or without those limbs. They're making a major difference with their attitudes and sacrifices."

The dream Martin Luther King Jr. had for America has come true, Williams said. "But we can't be complacent and think there is nothing more we have to do," he added. "We have to continue to look inside ourselves and at ourselves to make sure we're giving everybody an opportunity."

"You're our future," he said, addressing high school students in the audience. "You're going to be the congressmen and women, the presidents, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen. So don't let somebody take the dream away from you."

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