WIESBADEN, Germany -- Members of the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden community came together for the Black History Month Observance Feb. 15, 2017 at the Tony Bass Auditorium on Clay Kaserne.
The observance was hosted by 5th Signal Command (Theater) and featured guest speaker Sgt. Maj. Robert Atkinson, the U.S. Army Europe G-1 sergeant major. Atkinson spoke about the history of the 25th Infantry Division Bicycle Corps, a primarily black unit that conducted tests for the Army on the feasibility of using bicycles on the battlefield in the late 1800s. As part of their testing and evaluation mission the unit once rode about 1,900 miles from Fort Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri in June 1897.
Atkinson said he didn't previously know anything about the 25th Infantry Division Bicycle Corps, but was fascinated by what he learned and the lessons the story can provide for Soldiers today.
"I truly believe that stewardship in your profession, in this great profession that we have, is a must for Soldiers," Atkinson said.
Atkinson noted the unit's 1,900-mile ride happened in 1897, which he described as a difficult time for black Americans.
"This was decades before Dr. King had the famous dream, and these men were sweating together, they were bleeding together, they were riding together and they were training together as a team, as one," Atkinson said, referring to the famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Atkinson told the audience stories of the Soldiers pushing their 55-pound bikes plus gear up the Continental Divide, carrying them across rivers and riding along bad roads and rail lines.
"Although the bicycle was not adopted into the Army, the feat of the 25th Infantry Division proved that the bicycle had more advantages than a horse… and did lead to some advances in modern bicycles such as brakes, lighter frames and shock absorbers in the seats," Atkinson said.
Sgt. 1st Class John Brandt, the 5th Signal Command (Theater) equal opportunity advisor, said the story of the 25th Infantry Division Bicycle Corps is a good example for Soldiers today of perseverance and overcoming the seemingly impossible.
"For us today we won't have to overcome the same challenges that they had to overcome, but their story shows us that we have the capabilities as human beings to do so," Brandt said.
"Their mettle proved to be a fixture and a place in our history; not only in our black American history, but in our American history," Atkinson said.
5th Signal Command (Theater) builds, operates and defends network capabilities to enable mission command and create tactical, operational and strategic flexibility for the Army, joint and multinational forces in the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility.