KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany (Feb. 20, 2009) -- Diversity made a strong showing at the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern's Black History Month Celebration Feb. 17 at the Kaiserslautern Community Activities Center on Daenner Kaserne.

"Best Army in the world, and our one key strength is diversity," said Maj. Gen. Byron Bagby, the U.S. Army Europe chief of staff, in his speech as the event's guest speaker. "Today, our Army is strong because we leverage and draw strength from the rich diversity within our ranks."

During his speech, Pfc. Tanikia Washington, from the 257th Air Missile Defense Detachment on Rhine Ordnance Barracks, looked around the room.

"I saw a lot of people from different ethnic backgrounds. I saw Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and civilians," said Washington, who added this was the first time she had attended an observance. "It was just like what he was saying (in his speech)."

Bagby related to the 2009 Black History theme "The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas" by talking about Crispus Attucks, a black man, who became the first casualty of the American Revolution. He was shot and killed in 1770 in what became known as the Boston Massacre.
Other historical figures - Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen and Little Rock Nine - were laced into Bagby's speech, some crossing over into personal accounts and all relating to strength in diversity.

Buffalo Soldiers is a nickname applied to several African-American regiments of the U.S. Army in the late 1800s by the Native American tribes they fought. Tuskegee Airmen enlisted during World War II to become America's first black military Airmen. Considered to be one of the most important events in the African-American Civil Rights Movements, the Little Rock Nine were a group of African-American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Several members of the Tuskegee Airmen and Little Rock Nine were guests at Black History Month Observances while Bagby was the commander of the Division Artillery of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Fort Campbell, Ky., from 1997 to 1999.

"Diversity is about teamwork and many people with different backgrounds, specialties and ethnic groups coming together for a common cause to defend our nation," said Bagby on why he chose that theme for his speech, "That to me is a strength that we should keep on leveraging."

Music at the event was provided by the Vogelweh Gospel Choir and The Band - a group of local military and civilian community members who play instruments or sing during their off-duty hours.
"We just formed for today's event," said Kali Holman, one of the singers of The Band, and whose daytime job is at the garrison's pass and identification office on Kleber Kaserne.

The band's rendition of the Negro National Anthem at the start of the program received high praise from Bagby.

"Of all the times I've heard the Negro National Anthem performed in the past, this was best rendition I've heard," said Bagby, before he began his speech.

He later explained that the band's special twist showed some creativity, which struck him as extra special.

"I'm a soprano singer and the song is a little too low for me," said Holman, explaining the special twist, and who divulged that she selected the song even though she had not sung it before. "It was kind of hard for me to sing the song so we had to tweak it the best way we could to fit my voice. We just came up with whatever we came up with."

The Band closed out the event with the Black Eyed Peas' "Where is the Love'"

"I liked the rapping part - that was really great because it got everyone bobbing their heads and tapping their feet," said Washington.

Food sampling of collard greens, black-eyed peas and banana pudding were provided at the free event. Books and artwork were on display courtesy of the garrison's libraries and a local vendor.
The next national observance is Women's History Month in March and will be hosted here by the 21st Theater Sustainment Command.