Schofield Barracks, Hawaii -- One of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command's finest Soldiers was recognized as the 2018 NAACP Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award winner during the 109th annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention in San Antonio, Texas, July 17, 2018.
Staff Sgt. Ashli Africain, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Specialist assigned to the 8th Military Police Brigade accepted the prestigious award.
Enthusiastically nominated by her chain of command while she was assigned to 95th Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, Africain's excellence as an operations sergeant and her contribution to Equal Opportunity programs and policies distinguished her as a leader and role model deserving of the award.
The NAACP's Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award is awarded annually to members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force for their work in promoting civil rights. It is named for Roy Wilkins who led the NAACP for more than 20 years and established the NAACP Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Department in 1969.
Staff Sgt. Africain knew that she was nominated for the award but did not expect to win. Her former company commander, Capt. Phillip Hom, sent her a text message one morning in May congratulating her.
"I was extremely humbled; I was grateful at the time, but I did not yet realize the magnitude that this award holds and the significant meaning of the NAACP recognition," said Africain.
Growing up in the Bronx, Africain credits a lot of her successes today to a great childhood.
"I consider my grandmother to be one of my greatest role models. She came to the United States from Jamaica in the 1960s and raised me. She graduated from college at 78 years old and to this day radiates strong will," said Africain.
In addition to overseeing daily operations and administrative actions for a combat engineer unit of over 150 Soldiers, Africain served as the 95th Engineer Company's Equal Opportunity Leader. In this role, she was charged with upholding equal opportunity policies and assisting Soldiers and Leaders alike in the advancement of equality initiatives and acceptance of diversity.
"Equal Opportunity to me means fair treatment for everyone and not judging or discriminating against one's culture or weaknesses," said Africain. She added that the inclusion of different cultures and values in the Army is important because it expands and enhances ideas and experiences. "It helps boost the collective mind of our Soldiers and breeds creativity to solve today's problems."
The NAACP was founded in 1909 and is currently the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.
With over 300,000 members, the NAACP's strategic objectives include ensuring political, educational, social, and economic equality, eliminating race prejudice, and removing barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.
Equal opportunity programs and initiatives Africain helped enhance included unit climate and leadership assessments, resolving complaints, providing quarterly training, and assisting Soldiers seeking resources for unique issues.
For her former commander, Cpt. Hom, one of the other outstanding aspects of Staff Sgt. Africain's service was her willingness to volunteer to run the unit's Army Emergency Relief campaign. In this capacity, she enthusiastically donated time and effort to raise funds for Soldiers of all backgrounds who were in dire financial need.
"Staff Sgt. Africain has always displayed the total Soldier concept. She is a mentally and physically fit Soldier whose competence and maturity brought a sense of composure and poise to our unit", Cpt. Hom stated.
He continued, "Her resiliency and willingness to volunteer for tough roles is what inspired me to nominate her."
For Africain, her eight years of service in the Army has revolved around resiliency. As a young Soldier, she once suffered an injury that she didn't think she would recover from.
"One of my challenges used to be remaining positive and mentally strong through adversity," she stated. "Everyone at some point will be in a difficult situation and needs resilience. That's why influencing others with your positivity is so important."
She now considers positivity to be one of her character strengths. "Inclusion and equality enhances positivity and creates successful organizations." she said. This is again one of the many reasons that she was nominated for the NAACP award.
Africain extends resiliency into her household, where as a dual-military mother of two, she is finishing her degree in Business Administration with a minor in Human Resources. She also plans to continue toward a graduate degree in Business Administration.
In the future, she plans to explore the possibility of becoming a commissioned officer in the Army. She desires to keep leading Soldiers, serving her country, and extending a positive influence over everyone that she leads. One day, she hopes to teach in some capacity because of her love to coach and mentor.
"Winning this award and meeting NAACP members has opened my eyes to experiences and ideas that I would otherwise have no awareness of. I'm honored for the opportunity and hope to continue my service."