The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) hosted Team Aberdeen Proving Ground's (APG) Black History Month Observance to commemorate and celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our Nation, society, and culture on Feb. 6 at Myer Auditorium.

"This year's observance theme, 'honoring the past, securing the future,' reflects the legacy of black Americans and restores freedom to millions around the world," said Lt. Gen. Jason T. Evans, Deputy Chief of Staff, G9, who served as the guest speaker. "We honor these champions of justice, the sacrifices they've made and recognize the accomplishments of those who now benefit from those heroes."

Evans credits the military for assisting with those big changes. "The military has often been the measuring stickā€¦ changes in Army culture have been carried by veterans into the American culture. We're prepared today because of lessons and sacrifices of yesterday."

Evans recognized the 761st Tank Battalion, also known as "The Original Black Panthers," who became the first African American tank battalion to see combat in World War II. During the war, the battalion participated in four major allied campaigns, to include the Battle of the Bulge.

During and after World War II, black Americans continued to face discrimination. President Harry S. Truman recognized the problem and issued an executive order directed towards ending racial segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces on July 26, 1948.

"Today, black Americans make up approximately 21 percent of the Army," said Evans. "Black Americans serve in all military specialties and are doing things unimaginable for those of generations ago."

The ATEC Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Joel K. Tyler, presided over the observance and thanked the participants who played a part during the event.

"This month, we pay tribute to great American heroes, but we also want to celebrate the diversity that makes this nation and our Army very special. As they have in every conflict since before our republic was founded, black Soldiers have fought for freedom and that uniquely American ideal that all men and women are created equal."

Tyler noted the importance of the day and month, but "all year round, the diversity, our history and legacy that lead us into our future is really the most important feeling I want you to take away from today."

Evans and Tyler recognized and honored two surviving World War II veterans who were in attendance, Staff Sgt. Milton Wallace Leigh and Cpl. Walter George Smothers, with a standing ovation. As Evans stated, the men who fought in World War II created opportunities to serve for the generations to follow.

"We will honor those who continue to serve our great Army regardless of their race, color, or gender," said Evans. "It is our diversity that makes us the greatest Army in the world and will continue to enable us with the ability to secure the future."

Local members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which consisted of the nine historically Black Greek Letter Organizations (also known as The Divine Nine), presented the history and performed a vibrant step show, which thrilled the audience. The nine organizations were founded between 1906 and 1963 to unite African American students who have a like-minded purpose to serve the community, promote academic excellence, and foster brotherly and sisterly bonds.

During the event, the Morgan State University Pep Band, directed by Dr. Melvin N. Miles, performed "We Are One," "Freedom," the Army Song, and the Negro National Anthem.

Food sampling of traditional African American cuisine followed the program.