By Julie Piron, USAG Benelux Public AffairsFebruary 23, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- Each year, February is the month dedicated to events honoring the history and contributions of African Americans. This year's theme for Black History Month is "African Americans in Times of War," honoring those who served in the armed forces, and even made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the American ideals of democracy and freedom.
On Feb. 15, Army Col. Yolonda "YR" Summons, first female commander of the SHAPE Healthcare Facility, spoke at the SHAPE Cinema for a presentation on the African Americans' history in the armed forces. During the event, Summons chose to highlight three subjects near to her heart.
She first drew attention to the Buffalo Soldiers, nickname given to Black Soldiers fighting during the Indian Wars. Summons herself joined the Buffalo Soldier Regiment when she went to the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
"Along [with] distinct history that they have, if you think about enacting law, it wasn't before 1866, we've been fighting for 96 years, that law was enacted to be able to have African Americans in formation," said Summons.
She also mentioned Cathay Williams, the only enlisted female Buffalo Soldier in 1868. Cathay Williams was a slave who decided to fight. She changed her name and disguised herself as a male. She was finally considered unfit for duty when the Army discovered she was a woman, and she was discharged.
Summons also spoke about the history of Tuskegee Airmen: the first group of African Americans to serve in the U.S. armed forces in 1941. She remembered that in 1998, as she was at her first duty station at Fort Lewis, Washington, she discovered that she was the first African American female medevac pilot. The Tuskegee Airmen then became very inspirational to her as she was moving through her career.
"For more than 247 years, African Americans have been participating in all the U.S. conflicts. I want you to sit with the weight of the contributions, the magnitude of the contributions, the volume, the breadth and depth of the contributions that Blacks have made in wars," she said.