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COMMUNITY CORNER - African-Americans pave way in service

By Col. Andrew Cole | GARRISON COMMANDER | March 25, 2014

The U.S. military is one of the most diverse organizations in the world, with service members from every race, background and ethnicity serving within its ranks. African- American enlisted troops serving today make up more than 17 percent of the enlisted force across all branches of service – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Additionally, according to the Department of Defense:

• African-Americans serving as commissioned officers today comprise more than 8 percent of the U.S. military’s commissioned officer ranks.

• There are more than 3,500 African-American warrant officers today serving across the military services.

February marks African-American Black History Month. The monthlong observance provides the nation with the opportunity to honor African-Americans who have paved the way for others throughout history.

Under the theme “Civil Rights in America” this year’s national observance also celebrates the 50th year since former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

As we honor the accomplishments African-Americans have made throughout history, let’s also celebrate the contributions they have made in the military and at Fort Riley.

At Fort Riley, African-American Black History Month was celebrated during a Feb. 19 observance at Riley’s Conference Center. Robert Smith, director, Fort Riley Museums, was the guest speaker. Smith talked about the history of African-Americans in battle.

Throughout history, African-Americans have fought on behalf of the U.S. in every one of its battles. Additionally, African-American Soldiers have a storied past at Fort Riley.

In the late 1800s, Fort Riley became the site of the U.S. Cavalry School. Members of the famous all-black 9th and 10th cavalry regiments, known as the “Buffalo Soldiers” were stationed at Fort Riley at various times in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

BUFFALO SOLDIER

Retired 1st Sgt. Albert Curley, Junction City, is one of the last remaining members of the storied Buffalo Soldiers. Now in his 90s, Curley still shares his stories with Fort Riley Soldiers and the community about serving as a Buffalo Soldier, as well as serving in the military during the early years of segregation.

Curley was serving with the 571st Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Riley when then-President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, ending the practice of segregation in the military.

“Nothing is given to you,” Curley said during a February 2013 interview. “You’ve got to earn it. The biggest change now is you have qualified black officers, and they’ll get promoted. We have qualified black officers as generals now.”

FORMER BRO GENERAL

A noteworthy former “Big Red One” commanding general from 2009 to 2011 – Gen. Vincent K. Brooks – and his family also helped pave the way for African-Americans in the military. Brooks’ family is recognized as the first African-American family to produce three generals – Brooks, his father and Brooks’ brother – and one of the few families of any race with three generals in two generations.

It also is interesting to note that Brooks became the first African-American cadet to be named cadet brigade commander at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1980. The position is one of the highest student posts at West Point.

Brooks is now the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, the Army service component of the United States Pacific Command.

Today, African-Americans make up about 20 percent of “Big Red One” Soldiers.

If you would like to comment on this article or suggest a topic for Community Corner, email usarmy.riley.imcom.mbx.post-newspaper@mail.mil or visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fortrileygc.
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