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African Americans Make History in the Army Reserve

By Lt. Col. Randy Pullen
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2000 – African Americans in the Army Reserve have made and continue to make more history than can be confined to Black History Month in February.

The month does make for a suitable occasion, however, to take note of some of the things that African Americans have accomplished in the history of the Army Reserve. The following article is hardly exhaustive, but just a sample of the contributions these citizen- soldiers have made to the Army Reserve, the Army and the nation.

Black Americans have been part of the Army Reserve since World War I. In 1917, history notes, 639 "colored" reserve officers (as the segregated Army then designated them) were commissioned from the Officers' Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

During the Great Depression, black members of the Officers Reserve Corps served in Civilian Conservation Corps camps.

As they did in World War I, African American reservists served in World War II in segregated units. Segregation ended in 1948 through an executive order signed by President Truman. In reality, integration took time.

Black reservists called up for combat duty when the Korean War broke out they found themselves in all-black units such as the 24th Infantry Regiment. The 1954 "Project Clear" study came to the same conclusion that the Army learned by combat experience in Korea: Integration would enhance effectiveness. That same year, the last all-black unit was disbanded.

African Americans today are full and integral parts of the Army Reserve team. Blacks make up 25.4 percent of the Army Reserve today -- more than 52,000 African-Americans serve in the Selected Reserve. Just as the Army cannot do its mission without the Army Reserve, then, the Army Reserve cannot do its missions without its black citizen-soldiers.

At present, nine black Army Reserve general officers or promotable colonels serve on active duty; three more are in the Standby Inactive Reserve. They serve as commanders or deputy commanders of major Army Reserve commands or as senior staff officers at Army-level organizations.

The Army Reserve's first black general officer was John Q.T. King, a World War II veteran who became a brigadier general on Feb. 8, 1974.

In December 1999, Col. Bernard Taylor Jr., an African American, became the Army Reserve deputy chief for the Individual Mobilization Augmentee program.

Command Sgt. Maj. Collin L. Younger, an African American, is the fifth senior enlisted adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. Previously, he had been simultaneously the command sergeant major of the Army Reserve and the first command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Reserve Command in Atlanta. Prior to his current duty, he was installation command sergeant major at Fort Dix, N.J.

Another notable noncommissioned officer is Command Sgt. Maj. Sheila Williams, commandant of the NCO Academy at Fort Lewis, Wash. She's the first black woman to attain the rank of command sergeant major on Active Guard/Reserve status.

Black reservists make names for themselves outside their military duties, too. In 1996, 1st Lt. Ruthie Bolton became the first Army reservist to make the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team.

Another black Olympian is 2nd Lt. Garrett T. Hines, a member of the U.S. bobsled team at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and 1998 Army Male Athlete of the Year.

Wherever the Army Reserve is today, from the Balkans to Central America, from an Army reserve center in New York to an exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif., black reservists make their presence felt.

In the final analysis, when foes and friends look at someone in a battle dress uniform, hospital whites, flight suit or dress greens, they don’t see a black reservist or woman reservist or even an Army reservist. No, what they see are American soldiers -- who will do what America asks, no matter their color, sex or how many days of the week they wear a uniform.

And when these soldiers do that, they make more history.

(Lt. Col. Randy Pullen is assigned to the Public Affairs and Liaison Directorate of the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, in the Pentagon.)

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