FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 14, 2018) -- Members of the Fort Drum community gathered at the Commons on Feb. 13 to celebrate African American History Month. Chaplain (Maj.) J.P. Smith, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy division chaplain, spoke on the theme of "African Americans in times of war."

"Throughout our history, from the Revolutionary War through military operations today, African Americans have participated in conflicts that continue to shape and define our great country - serving proudly in the United States military," Smith said. "They defend their country and expect their sacrifices to earn them liberty, citizenship and equality for themselves and for their community."

Smith said that even in the face of prejudice and inequality, African Americans had served their country because they believed that succeeding in the military would contribute to a culture change. He said that Congress authorized the formation of all-black cavalry and infantry regiments during the Indian Wars, and African Americans would contribute significantly in both world wars.

"They served despite knowing that the freedom to serve their country did not necessarily guarantee full participation in American society, thousands of blacks answered the call to serve the Army in World War I," he said. "In World War II, African Americans served in segregated units, mostly in support units."

Smith said that the practice of segregation in the Army ended in October of 1951, during the Korean War, when the last all-black infantry regiment was disbanded.

"So today, when we are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or any other part of the world, what you see are Americans standing together ... we will all be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, defending one another," he said.

Smith said that there are several African Americans who served in the military that he admires, but his greatest hero is his grandfather.

"While my grandpa never donned a military uniform, he wore a uniform every single day that I can remember," he said. "When my grandpa left the house I would look at his nametag and I would say that I was proud of that name."

Smith said that he was raised by his grandparents and cared for him as they did their 15 children. His grandfather was an auto mechanic who taught him the value of hard work, pride and professionalism.

"When he left the house in the morning, he was clean-shaven, uniform ironed and he always moved with a purpose," he said. "He worked 9-to-5 by day, and then followed his calling to preach by night. This giant with a 9th grade education was respected by everyone in the neighborhood."

Smith said that some of the most prolific lessons he learned were on the top of a roof, under a vehicle and in the garden, where his grandfather demonstrated - by actions, more than words - the same values he would be introduced again in the Army.

"The erudite wisdom that he inculcated in me, gave me the solid foundation I needed to be successful," Smith said. "I hope to pass on that profound legacy to my three children, for indeed, they inspire me."

Sgt. 1st Class Aquarius Boast served as event narrator and introduced musical performances by the Inspirational Gospel Service Choir; Staff Sgt. Mary Summerlin, who sang the national anthem; and Allison Gunter, who sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Boast beamed as she disclosed to the audience that another performer, Pfc. Yakeeim Boast, assigned to 707th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Gordon, Ga., was her daughter.

"My daughter is sort of a local celebrity in the Fort Gordon area, and is often asked to sing by some pretty high-ranking individuals at various functions," said Boast. "We know this is Black History Month, and she was pretty booked up on appearances, so I had to use the good, ol' mom card to get her here."

Boast, who serves as 10th Mountain Division (LI) equal opportunity adviser, also received applause from the audience when she said that no EO funds were used to get her daughter to Fort Drum.

"We used the national bank of mom and dad," she said.