FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 14, 2020) -- Fort Drum community members gathered Feb. 13 to commemorate Black History Month and reflect on the theme "Honoring the Past, Securing the Future.""The goal and purpose of these observances is to educate, while breaking perceptions and stereotypes, and to drive home the importance of dignity and respect," said Sgt. 1st Class James Webb, equal opportunity adviser, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Divison (LI).The observance recognized the service of African Americans in the military throughout the nation's history, and it was dedicated to Sgt. William Carney, the nation's first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor.Carney led a charge on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in 1863 during the Civil War. When his unit's color guard was shot, Carney held up the flag to prevent it from touching the ground and was shot multiple times while rallying his troops to keep moving. He planted the flag at the base of the fort and continued to hold it even while receiving medical aid.As guest speaker, Brandon Woods, a former Army intelligence officer who served in the 4th Infantry Division, continued on that theme of military service."African Americans have served in every conflict in this nation's history," he said. "Today, our military is more diverse than our society as a whole, in many ways. One of the greatest benefits of military service, in my opinion, is that you leave home and share the company of men and women who may be very different from you. And yet, you come to depend on them and, given the times we live in, you come to trust them with your life."Woods said that this experience helps people to recognize the humanity in one another, and it can change their perceptions and understanding for the better. He said that acknowledging what people have in common makes it easier to celebrate what makes us unique.Hosted by Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, the event included observance videos and music from the 10th Mountain Division Band. Sgt. Michelle Dykes performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing," honoring the contributions of African American musicians and entertainers who have influenced and inspired others through their talents."This is quite an honor for me to be able sing for our Black History Month observance," Dykes said. "I was really glad that they requested I sing what has become known to so many people as the African American national anthem."She said that the song is an expression of unity among African Americans in the face of oppression and a call for liberation."It also professes that they are going places in society and that they should strive to be the best they could be," she said.Lt. Col. Chris Hopes, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (LI), said that the message of dignity and respect conveyed during Black History Month is one that cannot be repeated enough."Today we have the distinct honor of actively remembering what our brothers and sisters have faced as African Americans, and we see how they rose above the hate while honorably serving the nation in all times of need," he said. "Remembering this piece of history is vital to ensuring that it never happens again. We Americans cannot erase our history - we must learn from it."Hopes said that he is proud to serve in an institution that leads in breaking down barriers and stereotypes and strives to eradicate inequality."This doesn't mean that racism and hatred doesn't exist," he said. "It exists throughout the world and it can be seen as a generational issue that is handed down. As members of the most diverse fighting force in the world, we must accept and celebrate our differences. By doing this we promote dignity and respect, and we genuinely understand that our strength is our diversity."