By Kevin L. Robinson | DeCA Public AffairsFebruary 5, 2019
FORT LEE, Virginia -- In observance of Black History Month, commissary and exchange patrons will be eligible to enter a social media contest telling their military service story for a chance to win one $5,000 or one of three $1,000 scholarships.
The "Share Your Service Story" contest, sponsored by Coca-Cola in partnership with the USO and Mondelez International, honors the legacy of Tuskegee Airman Maj. Charles B. Hall, the first African-American pilot to shoot down an enemy plane during World War II.
To enter, participants must be authorized commissary and exchange patrons. They must submit their story in one of two ways on social media throughout February:
• Create a Tweet including a photo or video (maximum 2 minutes in length) telling a little of "your service story" or the service story of one of your relatives and share it on Twitter including the hashtag #ShareYourServiceStoryContest (your "Submission").
• Create an Instagram post including a photo or video (maximum 2 minutes in length) telling a little of "your service story" or the service story of one of your relatives and share it on Instagram including the hashtag #ShareYourServiceStoryContest (your "Submission").
Once the contest period begins, military resale patrons will see contest displays in their local commissaries and exchanges. Click on Coca-Cola's webpage link below for more information on contest rules.
"Maj. Hall's service as a Tuskegee Airman is historic and inspiring," said retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, DOD special assistant for commissary operations as well as director and CEO of the Navy Exchange Command. "This contest not only gives back to our military community with substantial scholarships but also gives our patrons a chance to share their awesome stories of military service."
Coca-Cola became aware of Hall's story by way of a photo in the National Air and Space Archives of him holding a bottle of Coke after a mission during the war, said Michael R. Pelletier, Coca-Cola North America senior shopper and marketing manager.
"What we found was this incredible story of Maj. Charles B. Hall, it was an amazing story and one that we felt needed to be told," Pelletier said. "In a time of segregation in his own country Hall not only fought for his freedom but he also fought for us all.
"So many of us grew up learning about the amazing achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Jesse Owens and many, many more influential African American change agents," he added, "but who has heard of Maj. Charles B. Hall? We have an amazing story to tell, and we're going to honor Major Hall by telling his story and inspiring others to tell us their service history as well."
Hall's story began with the 99th Pursuit Squadron in Tuskegee, Alabama, the first group of African-American pilots in World War II, historically known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen's combat record is legendary: They shot down 112 enemy aircraft, and the pilots were awarded 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, eight Purple Hearts and 14 Bronze Stars.
The 99th deployed to French Morocco in April 1943. On July 2, then 1st Lt. Hall entered the history books when he shot down two German fighters while his squadron was escorting U.S. bombers over Sicily.
Hall would eventually fly 198 combat missions over North Africa, Italy and other areas in Europe. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to major and became the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
His story is a pivotal part of the progress African Americans made in their journey to be treated as equal members of the military, said Mahlon Smith, president, Charles B. Hall Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Oklahoma City.
"This program gives deserved recognition to Maj. Charles B. Hall for service to his country while fighting the myths and segregations of the armed forces in the U.S.," Smith said. "His actions that day helped to bring about the diversity currently in our military that make it second to none. Our chapter is proud to carry his name and that legacy through our youth programs and community education of the Tuskegee Airmen."
After his military service, Hall moved to Oklahoma City, where he worked with the Federal Aviation Administration on nearby Tinker Air Force Base until his death on Nov. 22, 1971.
For Hall's daughter, Kelli Jones, her father's legacy is something she hopes will resonate with a new generation of youth: "This program is so important because it has the ability to reach young people who can read my dad's story and hopefully be inspired to reach their own dreams."