Feb. 9, 2009 - Buffalo Soldier Rededication
March 6, 2009
Man, talk about tough acts to follow. [Laughter]. It's great to see you all here. Thank you for coming down and helping us do this today.
Sully, there's a person in that picture up there that looks like your son. It's hard to believe that that was 17 years ago when this statue was first dedicated out at Fort Leavenworth. I go by the statue every month when I go out to talk to the pre-command course. It's a very moving memory.
Sergeant Major of the Army Preston and all these great noncommissioned officers here ... as Sergeant Major Wells said, this is the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. I think if you look at the men standing in front of you there, you'll really see the quality of the noncommissioned officer corps that has shaped the Army of this country over its history. So how about a big hand for all of them.
I just noticed that Sergeant Major Wells executed one of the prime tenets of a noncommissioned officer. Did you notice how he delegated his speech' [Laughter]. Brought in all the right folks to make all his points. [Laughter]. Said thank you very much, and sat down. [Laughter]. "Iron Soldiers" there, Sergeant Major. You're doing great.
We're using this as an opportunity to kick off African-American History Month. It's a time for all of us to celebrate the past, the present, and the future contributions of all African-Americans to this nation. It's because of selfless service to our country, a calling that was heard and acted upon by the Buffalo Soldiers, their forebears, and those generations that followed.
Sergeant First Class Craig Browne told me upstairs that when he thought back to his grandfather ... his grandfather was the most dominant man that he ever met in his life. I think that his grandfather enlisted, became an officer, went off to France twice in World War I, and then became a minister and served as a minister for 26 years ... and passed on his experience to others. It's just a great example of the heritage of the Buffalo Soldiers.
I will tell you, I think I have a way to go with my own grandchildren to rise to that august level there.
Sergeant Browne also mentioned the President's call to service. He said that in his inaugural address. He talked about the duties that we have as Americans to our nation and to the world at large. Duties that embody what he calls "the price and promise of citizenship."
In that same speech, he went on to highlight the contributions of our military ... The willingness of those in our armed forces to sacrifice ... "to find meaning in something greater than themselves." The fact that the President in his inaugural address used the contributions of the military as an example for the rest of the country, I think, is striking.
This statue and the story that Sergeant Browne told represents the very heart of our President's call. It represents service to the nation during a tough time ... service by Americans determined to make a better future for those that follow them.
It's an important thing for us to study and celebrate our history. Colin Powell reminded us of that last summer on Capitol Hill in the rotunda on the 60th Anniversary of the desegregation of the military. He said, "We must never let them forget ... history because it is ... history that informs our present and gives us a vision to the future." So it is the case with our nation's African-American history.
Now, we all know that it's human nature to look for our own face in a picture. And though many of us won't admit it, when we look at the picture and our face isn't represented we become somewhat less interested in what we're looking at. It's kind of that way with history.
The military service is one of the first ways that African-Americans began to get their faces into the picture, so to speak. Through military service, individual African-Americans took hold of an opportunity and became their own stories of inspiration, fitting into the larger American story. One of those stories is that of the Buffalo Soldiers.
They joined the frontier army in the post-Civil War era and did so for several reasons. For most, the Army offered a better way of life. Many hoped to win respect through military service. But regardless of their reasons, they answered a call to service and, by doing so, they left an inspiring legacy.
The statue we're rededicating today symbolizes a proud era of African-American military service. It memorializes a time when African-Americans answered the call and, as the President has said, "stepped into the currents of history."
Today, we often refer to our Army as the Strength of the Nation. We are that way because of our Values, because of our Ethos, because of our People, and because of our diversity. Our diversity is the strength of our Army, and our Army is the Strength of our Nation.
On January 20th, as I sat watching President Obama be sworn in, it struck me that - 40 years before - I stood on the roof of my dormitory in Georgetown and watched Washington burn after Martin Luther King had been assassinated. I was proud of our country that I was able to sit 40 years later and watch an African-American sworn in as President of the United States.
As we all know, we have more to do. In recalling how far we've come, I'll quote General Powell again because I thought this was quite compelling. He said, "Let's not rest on our laurels as long as there is one kid out there wondering, 'Can I dream in America' Can I get to the very top'' The answer has to be: 'yes, I can.'"
Thank you all very much for joining us today. I look forward to the rest of this month, commemorating the contributions of African-American men and women to our Army ... and to our nation.