By: Lt. Col. Stephen B. Lockridge, Harrisburg Recruiting Battalion Commander
The U.S. Army takes special pride in acknowledging African-Americans who have served this country with honor and distinction and those who continue to defend our nation. From the Colonial period through the present day, African-American men and women have served in the military, defending and protecting our liberties both here and abroad.
Since the earliest days of military service, African-American men and women have broken through barriers to become the “first” on the road to full inclusion and advancement in the Army and other branches of the Armed Forces. Their courage, sacrifice and leadership serve as inspiration for generations of Soldiers succeeding them.
The Army’s historical commitment to diversity is well chronicled. We were one of the first American institutions to integrate, as early as 1954. This helped to lay the foundation for future civil rights advancements. Additionally, there is a long list of highly distinguished African-Americans who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their unparalleled courage under fire.
Also, you may have heard of the Buffalo Soldiers, those brave men who helped to protect settlers of the great American West. In contemporary times, one of America’s most respected citizens, General Colin Powell, began his career as an U.S. Army private. The list of African-American Soldiers whose outstanding bravery and service has made us all swell with pride is far too long to review in detail at this time.
I will say, however, that I am proud to follow in their footsteps, to serve along side them, and to pass the torch to those who follow me. But, on this occasion, I want to take a few moments to talk about commitment and the Army.
It’s well known that men and women make a commitment to the Army, a commitment to serving and protecting freedom on our soil and beyond. The commitment to selfless service in the United States Army is one of the highest callings I know. I’m proud of the commitment I’ve made, and I’m even more proud of the young men and women who continue to make that personal commitment. In return for one’s personal commitment, the Army makes a commitment to you. It is committed to three principles in particular: opportunity, education and leadership.
First, the Army helps you find opportunities that other people just don’t get.
I can personally attest to this. A young person will have access to more unique, quality opportunities in the U.S. Army than in any other organization. The more than 150 career opportunities offer more experiences, more places to see in the world, and, most importantly, more personal progress.
I think young people and their loved ones are oftentimes surprised by the caliber of opportunities the Army has to offer. Every Soldier’s path to self-fulfillment is different and meaningful to them. However, one thing is common…every path helps that young man or woman become Army Strong.
Second, the Army invests millions of dollars in you.
You may not have thought of it this way, but the Army is the largest, most comprehensive organization of learning in the world. Why is that? I make that declarative statement because the Army puts a very high value on “education” – it is what helps ensure the success of individuals as well as the organization today and in the future.
There are more ways to learn in the Army, more places in which to gather knowledge, and very importantly, more ways to acquire financing for that education. Indeed, education and training is not an option in the Army…it’s a requirement because it makes you Army Strong.
Third, the Army is committed to ensuring that you have the chance to lead something that is important to you.
Simply put, the Army is one of the world’s most respected leadership training grounds. In the Army family, a young woman or a young man can become part of a leading force of progress in the world. You become a leader in the Army because this institution expects all Soldiers to be at their best and to rise to new challenges everyday.
It is this culture that leads to achievements that have an impact felt far beyond the individual. Army Strong men and women affect everyone around them, the Nation and the world. If you want to be a leader in surgery, you can reach that goal in the Army. If you want to blaze new paths in technology, you can start that journey in the Army. If you want to improve the environment and the way mankind harnesses natural resources, the Army will equip you with the knowledge and experience you will need in that endeavor.
The Army gives Soldiers the relevant experience they will need to compete and to break new ground in a multitude of fields. A better world requires Army Strong leaders, and they are made here. It is vitally important for us to honor our history and to learn from it. In doing so, we create a future that can sustain our individual and collective success.
And that is what the Army is about…a better future for us all.