Inspired Soldiers embody legacy of Black History Month

Inspired Soldiers, Legacy, Black History Month, African AmericanAfrican American Veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars, all of whom received a Purple Heart during their service, stand together during a ceremony in Virginia honoring their sacrifice. (Photo courtesy Max Oden/The News & Advance)

By John M. Rosenberg, Warrior Care and Transition


February 16, 2017 - Black History Month is a time to remember and celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the fabric of our nation. For the U.S. Army, this is an opportunity to honor the accomplishments of African American personnel, past and present, in keeping the nation safe.

Throughout America’s history, from the 1st Rhode Island Regiment at Yorktown during the American Revolution, to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry storming the parapets of Fort Wagner during the Civil War, to the Battle for Fallujah, African American Soldiers have honorably answered the call to duty, serving with great valor and distinction in America’s armed forces.

Currently African American enlisted members and officers account for just over 21.5 percent of U.S. Army personnel.

Among present day role models is the 44th U.S. Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command, Lt. Gen. Nadja West. In addition to being the first African American female major general of the Army's active component, Lt. Gen. West was also the first African American female lieutenant general and is the highest-ranking female to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Possessing an appreciation for the legacy of African American Soldiers is an oft-cited theme within the U.S. Army Medical Command Deputy Chief of Staff for Warrior Care and Transition. Maj. LaRon Somerville, WCT force management officer, says “I recognize the sacrifices of the many African American Soldiers who came before me, and I stand on their shoulders in service to our nation.”

To Lt. Col. David Johnson, AW2 executive officer, the story of African American’s in the U.S. military is of great importance to him, saying, “It’s an example and precedent for future generations and future leaders.”

“The legacy of African-American Soldiers definitely inspires me,” said Sgt. 1st Class Duane Herbert, WCT operations non-commissioned officer. “It shows us where we were and to where we’ve progressed. This has been great for our nation, and there are even better things to come.”

In addition to West, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is another name that is frequently mentioned as a role model.

Maj. Sims Smith, AW2 officer in charge, says Powell inspired him to look forward in terms of his career objectives. “Individuals such as Colin Powell opened things up, not only for African Americans,” says Smith, “but also for Asians, Hispanics, men, women… no matter who you are. This only helps us to become stronger as a nation.”

As the first person in her family to receive a master’s degree, WCT Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge, Soldier Services Directorate, Master Sgt. Phyllis Brown credits her service to the Army and the GI Bill in helping her to advance. “The Army saw the potential in me,” says Brown. “I am someone who wants to get things done, get things accomplished. Enlisted African American Soldiers are part of the backbone of the Army.”

Capt. Kanika Haynes is an action officer within the Soldier Management Division of WCT. She received her inspiration through relatives who have served in the U.S. military, including an uncle in the Air Force and two uncles who retired from the Army.

“The person who inspired me the most,” says Haynes, “was my grandfather who served in the Navy. I remember seeing all of his pictures on the wall and thinking to myself— this is something to admire. When he died I made sure to inherit a few of those photos and, because I’m the only member of my family currently serving, I received his burial flag.”

While the official Black History Month celebrations lasts but four weeks, the contributions of African American Soldiers to society doesn’t end on any given day. Likewise, our African American service members continue to contribute and make history, even after they take off their uniforms for the last time.