Soldiers, staff and guest at William Beaumont Army Medical Center attended the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance at WBAMC's Clinical Assembly Room, Jan. 19.

The observance celebrated the life and accomplishments of Dr. King and welcomed guest speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Reginald Gooden, deputy director and assistant dean of Sergeants Major Education, U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas.

"Dr. King understood (the civil rights movement) was not only about himself but about others," said Gooden, a native of Atlanta. "(The Civil Rights Movement) was about the culture and racism."

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a legislation declaring the third Monday of January as a federal holiday in honor of King. While the holiday does provide time off for some American families, in 1994 congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act legislation, later signed into law, encouraging American citizens to exercise civic engagement and community service during the holiday.

Gooden stressed King's emphasis on character throughout King's moving "I have a dream" speech and its relevance to today's sociocultural factors.

"Your character outweighs the person that you are, it outweighs the job you have or how much money you make," said Gooden. "Character is a distinctive trait you have within yourself to build your life and to be able to react appropriately to certain situations in uncertainness."

During the presentation Soldiers echoed main verses of King's well-known speech and concluded with a rendition of the gospel song, "We shall overcome."

"I've seen a lot of progress in my life," said Col. Erik Rude, commander, WBAMC. "In the Army it's not about us, it's about everyone else. It's about knowing that person next to you in the foxhole has got your back. It can't have anything to do with race, gender, nation of origin, sexuality, you just have to know they have your back."

Rude shared a personal experience as a young Soldier which enlightened him on the importance of comradeship in the Army regardless of race or other demographics.

"In the early 90s we started wearing the American flag on our arm sleeve," said Rude. "It wasn't just to go to another country and (other nationalities) would know what military we were, it was to signify we were all Americans, we're all the same and American."

"Your character speaks loudly about who you are and what you represent. We have to examine ourselves daily to evaluate whether we are living our lives to the highest character," said Gooden. "I believe if we're willing to take a closer look at the content of our character, one day we will be able to say, as different races and cultures but as a society that we have truly overcome."