DoD Holds African American History Month Observance
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2002 DoD held its African-American History Month observance in the Pentagon auditorium Feb. 21 in celebration of the diverse heritage and culture of the defense military and civilian work force.
African American History Month essay contest winner Shallah A. Marshall, a sixth grader at John Tyler Elementary School in Washington, chats with Army Lt. Gen. Larry Jordan at a reception following DoD's African American History Month observance. The annual event in the Pentagon was held Feb. 21. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hosted by David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, keynote speakers were Claude M. Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, and Lt. Gen. Larry Jordan, deputy commanding general and chief of staff of the Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.
Bolton said he and other African Americans have fought for the country because, "This country is my country. My foreparents came here over 200 years ago. Though they were brought here in chains and shackles, they persevered and made this country and this land their home. With that in mind, it's not hard to understand why black men and women fought for this country. It's home and it's the only one that I truly know.
"Why do black people continue to provide this country the very best?" he asked, then answered, "Simply because it deserves the very best. Of all the countries on Earth, this one has made the greatest strides toward the dream of freedom and equality."
Bolton, a retired Air Force major general, flew 232 combat missions during the Vietnam War, 40 of them over North Vietnam.
"The future holds greater opportunities and far more participation for black people as well as all other minorities," he said. "It's estimated that within a generation, nearly half of the American population will be composed of minorities -- African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans. The question is, are you ready to lead the country and the world? Are your children being prepared? Are your grandchildren being prepared?
"We must start today educating and training them in the technologies and sciences, the gateway to our futures," he said. "And, of course, the arts and humanities, the gateway to our souls."
Jordan said this year's DoD theme, "The African-American Legacy: Contributions and Service in America's Defense," is especially fitting at a time when the nation faces so many challenges associated with global leadership, particularly the war on terrorism.
"It's important to reflect on the contributions of the various and distinct parts of our diverse society that have served and sacrificed for the collective good," said Jordan, a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.
For black Americans, defending the country was often viewed as the key to freedom, citizenship and acceptance, he noted. African-American soldiers paid the price for freedom on battlefields from the Revolutionary War throughout American history but after the battle, faced continued discrimination, lost opportunities and unfulfilled dreams.
"Many Americans began to recognize the irony of enlisting citizens to defend democracy when those same citizens were denied certain basic rights at home," Jordan said. The general said the contradiction reached its peak during World War II.
"The demands of war forced the initial step toward integration of Americans on the battlefield when shortages of combat replacements forced the Army to assign African Americans to previously segregated units." That integration was viewed as a battlefield emergency, however, and not as a policy for normal times, Jordan said.
"Official desegregation of the armed forces came on July 26, 1948, in the form of a presidential executive order. Still, it took the emergency of the Korean War, two years later, to bring about full and final integration," he said.
Jordan pointed out that every operation undertaken by the U.S. military today finds African-American service members fulfilling their duty alongside comrades from every cultural heritage and ethnic group.
"The media images we have seen from places like Somalia, Kuwait, Kosovo or Afghanistan show an Army as diverse as our nation," he said. "Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen serve and contribute without restriction. No longer are certain jobs reserved for any ethnic group and advancement dependent on anything other than talent and potential."