Colorado Springs, Colo. - The story of ethnic and cultural diversity in the U.S. Army can be traced back to the Revolutionary War and throughout every war the United States has taken part in since. This is no stunning fact; however, the treatment of Soldiers with diverse backgrounds has changed drastically since the Civil War, when African American Soldiers literally fought for their freedom as human beings versus disposable property. That is, when they were allowed to fight. In many cases they were relegated to cooking and/or burial duty instead of being allowed the honor of bearing arms on their own behalf.
Although Staff Sgt. Paula Davie, a Michigan native and the Paralegal Non-Commissioned Officer with the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense), obviously never fought in the Civil War, her appreciation for the Army's recognition of diversity has been felt since the beginning of her career.
"I joined the Michigan Army National Guard while I was still in high school in 1989 and shipped off to basic in late 1990," said Davie. "I didn't think about ethnicity too much when I joined...it always seemed like a very diverse organization right from the start."
Davie attended basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., where she said, "There were many African Americans there as well as other ethnicities so I didn't think about it much. I also grew up in Michigan where it is quite diverse so it was normal for me."
The Army has put in place a very robust equal opportunity program to halt any mistreatment of Soldiers not only of different races but genders and belief systems as well. Davie has served as the Equal Opportunity NCO for the 100th MDB for about one year.
"I have never felt in my career like I wasn't a part of the Army team," Davie said. "I'm sure there are Soldiers out there who can create some problems but I don't think it's race-related, I think it is people-related."
The U.S. military has achieved a level of racial integration that is unsurpassed by any other organization in the country, and the Army was the first to fully integrate its troops. The Army, largest of all services, has by far the highest number of African American service members within its ranks, with approximately 30 percent. Thirty percent of all combat support specialties and 40 percent of most combat units are made up of African American enlisted Soldiers, NCO's, and officers. This was not always the case.
From 1941 to 1945, African American enlisted personnel increased nearly 180 percent from 5,000 to 900,000. The number of African American officers increased even more; from only five to 7,000. Still, the fear of racial ''contamination'' lingered. In 1941, the military ordered ''white blood only'' donations for white troops. Plasma supplies were carefully labeled and dispensed. Segregation was the rule, even among the dying.
Beliefs about blood donation aren't like that in the military anymore.
"I do know it has come a long way since then, you won't find that in today's Army...no Soldier is going to care about where blood comes from as long as he knows he's going home," said Davie, looking beyond the past.
To show throughout all commands Army-wide that recognition of such an issue within its ranks is important, the Army goes beyond just hanging posters in the hallways and making announcements in formations.
"The Army is getting better at acknowledging cultural and ethnic holidays and it continues to point out areas for growth," said the 36 year-old African American NCO.
"We just need to get the word out there so that there's participation in all events and the commands need to show support and let their Soldiers participate."
It is obvious that not only the U.S. military as a whole has come a long way regarding race over the years but society has transformed, too.
"I think our newly elected commander-in-chief being an African-American is a good sign because it shows that America as a whole is really starting to look beyond race and looking at who is going to be better for the job," Davie said.
"A lot of African Americans supported President Obama; however...it took all races," she said [to elect him].
Although Davie believes there is room for improvement with the Army programs available for all cultures and ethnicities, she believes the strides taken so far are important for multiple reasons.
"It's very important that we openly celebrate things like African American history month -- it shows the Army's efforts to bring different ethnicities together as well as become more diverse, and it gives everyone a chance to celebrate their own culture," Davie said.
"We have gone as far as changing our MREs [meals, ready to eat] to not contain pork all the way to accepting Muslims and their prayer beliefs."
Davis truly believes in the programs set up by the Army and is a proud supporter of them.
"With all units there is a realization that there are events out there, but it is ultimately up to the command to be supportive to make them work. All events should be open to for all Soldiers to attend," said Davie.
Given everything that this country has gone through in its history, African Americans have served since the very beginning. They have fought for this country since its inception and continue to fight for it today on the sandy battlefields of Iraq and mountainous regions of Afghanistan -- side by side, with people of many different colors and religions.
With the current global situation, there is no time to get wrapped up in skin color, culture, religion, gender or any other difference because the Soldier standing next to you is either your brother or sister in arms or at the keyboard. It is vital to the Army mission that race isn't a deciding factor in whether or not we are successful in these tough times because when it boils down to the essence, we all bleed the same color...red.