By Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public AffairsJanuary 21, 2019
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The life and legacy of one of America's greatest slain heroes was remembered here Jan. 21 at the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation center's theater by a leader within the Area Support Group-Afghanistan.
The guest speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Garton Francis, senior enlisted leader for the ASG-A, who hails from Jamaica, educated attendees with the accomplishments and issues that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to contend with in his quest for peace, freedom, and equality for all living in the United States.
King, a Baptist minister and activist, led the civil rights movement that started in 1954 until he was gunned down April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, at age 39.
"In this year 2019, Dr. King has now been dead longer than he was alive, and most Americans alive today were born after April 4, 1968," Francis said, a Soldier since 1990. "For some of us, Dr. King is still a contemporary figure. For most of us, he is a figure consigned to history, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln."
In 1994, Congress designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the first and only federal holiday observed as a national day of service, and charged the Corporation for National Community Service with leading this national effort. The day of service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves Americans closer to King's vision of a "Beloved Community", the Army stated in its official daily focus known as STAND-TO! released Jan. 17 via the assistant secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs).
The national theme of the day is, "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not a Day Off", designed to encourage individuals to dedicate the day to community service. This commemoration is an occasion to remember Dr. King's remarkable life and to follow his principles of unity and equality, STAND-TO! stated.
As Francis pointed out, some liked King and some despised him when he was alive. "The reality is that Dr. King was divisive; to many, he was a troublemaker."
Francis said that King challenged society resulting in people feeling uncomfortable. He added that King was often dreaded and city leaders couldn't wait for him to leave during his visits.
"He was a target of government surveillance and harassment…he was also the target of racist insults, bricks, bottles, numerous death threats, a knife in the chest in Harlem [New York] in 1958, and finally he was murdered in Memphis in 1968," Francis said.
So with all the challenges he had to go through, how did King succeed in changing America and create a lasting legacy?
Francis explained that King had two phases that encompassed his career. The first was from 1955 to 1965, in which King focused the nation's attention on racial discrimination that could be ended through changes in the law. Examples of this include the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 giving all people equal access to buses, pools, lunch counters, movie theaters, jobs and the ballot box, Francis said.
The second phase would last from 1966 to King's death as he devoted himself to fighting poverty and world peace -- a time when the U.S. was fully engaged in the Vietnam War with 500,000-plus military personnel in theater. A war, while known for many things, deeply divided America, especially its draft-eligible youth and those older.
On the final weekend of King's life, Francis said, King delivered a sermon reminding of the inalienable rights endowed by one's creator and stated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence -- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
To this, King said: "But if a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life, liberty, nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists."
Regarding the Vietnam War, King, a 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, began to publicly question the rationale for the war, to the fear of many other civil rights leaders, who did not want to alienate then-President Lyndon Johnson, who was viewed as a "best friend" on civil rights, Francis explained.
Francis also discussed the various deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and said there is speculation on what King would believe and say if he were alive today.
He said King drew a parallel from the parable of the Good Samaritan as told in The Bible of a man who desperately needed help but was ignored by a priest who encountered him and to those who hesitated to help striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, because they feared for their own jobs and comfortable employment positions.
Likewise, Francis said he draws a parallel to the deployments of the last two decades.
"Those in today's volunteer Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have made the conscious decision to travel a dangerous road, and personally stop to administer aid to those who want peace, freedom, and a better place in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in defense of the American people."
During his 28-year career, Francis has deployed to Iraq twice, Kosovo, and Haiti prior to his current deployment.
Following his speech, Francis was awarded a "T Wall" plaque by Col. Daniel Benick, commander of Task Force Lightning, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jebin Heyse, TF Lightning command sergeant major.
The event was hosted by Task Force Lightning. Its mission is to conduct multi-discipline intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations across Afghanistan in support of NATO missions.
The invocation and benediction was provided by Chaplain (Capt.) Ryan Luchau, TF Glacier; 1st Lt. Eleanor Prikazsky sang the national anthem and 2nd Lt. Caroline Bechtel served as the master of ceremonies -- both are with TF Lightning.
A special MLK cake and refreshments were served following the ceremony.
For more information:
The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
African Americans in the U.S. Army
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Corporation for National and Community Service