JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington. – Although black Americans have always been a vital component of the US military, the conditions under which they served have long been the subject of debate. Less than 75 years ago, although they served with as much courage and selflessness as their white counterparts, black soldiers were not treated as such.
About 1 million black Americans served in the military during World War II; however, many faced abuse and racism upon returning home. This prompted former President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9981 ordering the armed forces to integrate. The armed forces simply could not accomplish their missions without the skill and dedication of all its members.
“It is clear that the armed forces have made tremendous strides towards inclusion and diversity, but there is still room for improvement,” said Col. Christopher Hall, deputy commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. . “I was lucky to have like-minded leaders who were able to push me and guide me as I progressed through the ranks, and that says a lot. »
Black Americans have served in the United States Navy since the American Revolution. There are several ships in the fleet named in honor of sailors who have helped shape the diversity, equality and inclusiveness of the Navy.
According to the Department of Defense, in 2021 there were 1,319,283 active duty personnel and of these, 227,974, or 17.3%, are African Americans.
“Being a black woman serving in the military can be challenging and rewarding at times,” said Sgt. Candace Core, culinary sergeant with the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “It’s gratifying that other Black Soldiers look up to you and feel like if you’ve made it, they can too. Also, for me, seeing black women in higher positions gives me more motivation that equality is possible.
One of the highest honors a service member can receive is the Medal of Honor. To date, 94 black service members, including 70 privates, seven marines and 17 sailors, have received the Medal of Honor, the latest being U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, Dec. 16, 2021.
These servicemen join a long list of notable black servicemen who have marked black military history. Some notable achievements were:
Cathay Williams – 1866: First black woman to enlist in the US Army
sergeant. William Carney – 1863: first recipient of the Black Medal of Honor
2nd Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper 1877: first black cadet to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy
Eugene Jacques Bullard – 1917: first black American military aviator and only black pilot in World War I; but because of his race he was never allowed to fly for the American forces – he flew for France during the war
Major Della Raney – 1942: First black head nurse appointed as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps
Annie Neal Graham – 1949: First black woman to enlist in the US Marines Corps
Frederick C. Branch – 1945: First black officer in the U.S. Marine Corps
Jesse L. Brown – 1947: First black aviator in the US Navy
General Frank Emmanuel Petersen Jr. – 1952: First black airman in the US Marine Corps and first black general in the Marines
General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. – 1954: First black brigadier general in the US Air Force; was promoted to its fourth star in 1998
Captain Bobby Wilks – 1957: First black U.S. Coast Guard aviator and first black to achieve the rank of captain in the Coast Guard
Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear – 1970: US Navy’s first black master diver
General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. – 1975: First black four-star general in the United States Air Force
Clifford Alexander Jr. – 1977: first black secretary in the US Army
Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown – 1979: First black head of the Army Nurse Corps and first black female Army Brigadier General
General Roscoe Robinson Jr. – 1982: First black four-star general in the U.S. Army
Major General Fred Gorden – 1987: First black commandant of cadets at the United States Military Academy
General Colin Powell – 1989: first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Brig. Gen. Marcelite Harris – 1990: First black female general in the US Air Force
Lieutenant General Nadja West – 2016: first black female lieutenant general and highest ranking woman to graduate from the US Military Academy
Cadet Simone Askew – 2017: First black woman to reach the highest position in the cadet chain of command
Captain Remoshay Nelson – 2020: First Black Female Officer in the US Air Force Thunderbirds
Gen. Lloyd Austin III – 2021: First Black Secretary of Defense
Today’s Black servicemen follow in the footsteps of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who served with distinction and honor for 245 years.
“All my life I’ve wanted to be a soldier,” said Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, current and only the second black general to command I Corps. “It’s an honor to carry on my father’s legacy.”
Brunson’s father is a retired Army sergeant major who served in the Vietnam War. Brunson is JBLM’s top official, and his wife, retired Col. Kirsten Brunson, was the Army’s first African-American female judge.
“As long as we keep saying someone is the first to do something, we’re not there yet,” he said. “When that happens, I’m always happy, because someone can look at that and say, ‘If that person can do it, I can do it.’ The problem is that it doesn’t take into account what it took for that person to get there.
For more information on JBLM, click here.