By Maj. Gen. Malcolm B. Frost, Chief, Public Affairs, U.S. Army
Diversity, equality and inclusion — those are just some of the traits that make America’s Army the strongest, finest fighting force the world has ever seen.
America’s Army remains highly capable and mission ready by leveraging the backgrounds and experiences of our diverse, all-volunteer force.
We value the honorable service of our more than 103,400 African-American Soldiers who continue to make immeasurable contributions and sacrifices to strengthen our Army, meet mission requirements, and fight and win the nation’s wars.
Even before Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the Army’s first African-American general officer in 1940, past and present African-American Soldiers and Army civilians were building legacies of professionalism, selfless service, dignity and respect.
In fact, even before we were a nation, it was an African-American who helped rally colonists to the cause of freedom. “Be not afraid,” an escaped slave named Crispus Attucks cried out to the citizens of Boston as he headed toward a line of British soldiers. When the British opened fired, Attucks became the first casualty of the American Revolution, in what became known as the Boston Massacre.
Our freedom was built and preserved on the shoulders of great and honorable African-American Soldiers such as the Louisiana Free Men of Color in the War of 1812, the Tenth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, the Harlem Hell Fighters and the Black Rattlers of New York’s 369th Infantry Regiment, the “Triple Nickels,” the “Red Tail Angels” of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, the brave drivers of the “Red Ball Express,” and the “Black Panthers” of the 761st Tank Battalion.
But even as these brave Soldiers fought for our freedoms at home and abroad, they were often denied them by the very nation they defended.
While our Army’s history isn’t perfect, we have often provided the leadership and the example to show the country that there is a better way. Sixteen years before the Civil Rights Act, America’s military had already begun to desegregate its units.
More than 40 years ago, we integrated women into our ranks, long before they were welcome in America’s boardrooms or much of its workforce.
And while much of the nation still struggles for parity and equality in the workforce, we provide equal pay for equal work — paying privates and sergeants, lieutenants and generals equally, regardless of gender or race.
I believe that our Army stands as a proud example of all that we can be as a nation when we welcome and embrace all peoples. But I know, too, that regardless of how far we’ve come, we have a long way to go.
As an Army, we have only begun to fully integrate women into the last remaining vestige of inequality — our combat arms. Those women, too, can find inspiration in the women of color who broke down barriers long before — women like Cathay Williams, who hid the fact that she was a woman so she could enlist in the U.S. Army during the Civil War; Major Christy Adams, the commander of the Six Triple Eight Central Postal Battalion; and Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, the first African-American woman in the history of the United States to become a general officer.
Today, that inspiration continues in proud examples of leadership, duty and selfless service in people such as Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West, the first African-American female to earn three stars, and the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, who followed close behind.
Less than a year ago, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Among its artifacts and exhibits is the uniform worn by Brig. Gen. Johnson-Brown, a lasting tribute to her contributions not only to American history, but to our Army history as well.
We can hope that others will celebrate and learn from her experiences.
Editor’s note: This was adapted from a speech that can be found online.