WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Honoring the Past, Securing the Future was the theme for the Black History Month observance at White Sands Missile Range on Feb. 27.
The event's guest speaker, Lt. Col. Aaron J. Braxton, Commander, McAfee United States Army Health Clinic, discussed the history of Black American Soldiers and his upbringing in Greenville, Miss., a southern city famously known for cotton plantations.
Braxton explained that African Americans' participation in the Army is an integral part of American history as a whole. No U.S. war has been fought without African Americans, and despite the insurmountable efforts they put forth, their contributions were quickly forgotten or understated.
"Although African Americans fought with distinction in World War II, they returned home to a segregated America," said Braxton. "Black Americans were still treated as second-class citizens, and not permitted to drink from the same water fountains or sit at the same lunch counters."
After the efforts of one million Black American Soldiers during World War II, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which gave equal opportunity for all members of the Armed Forces. It was one of the first steps towards the desegregation of American society.
"My family owns approximately 1,400 acres of land that they bought from their slave owners in the great state of Miss.," said Braxton. "Yes, we worked on this land, because it was our lifeline so as a young man, I knew all about work ethics. Our hard work meant financial stability for our family."
His childhood centered on working hard, and learning valuable lessons from his parents who taught him the importance of his heritage, as well as overcoming obstacles. His parents emphasized the power in one's name and the life one lives, "it's not how long you live -- it's how you live, which is your blueprint."
His parents had a vision for him and his siblings. Braxton went on to become a star student and athlete in school, and an accomplished "professional Soldier."
"Today I want to share what you can become and what we all can create together," said Braxton. "Rather than letting the color of your skin define you - you can define who you are by your actions."
Meaning, what you do matters more than how you look or where you came from. Braxton shared the message of learning from your heritage and the past, but not dwelling on it, instead using it as fuel to keep you moving forward.
"The Army simply could not accomplish its missions without the skill and dedication of all of its members," said Braxton. "We find our true strength in our ability to bring together people of different races, cultures and faiths who share common values like loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage and most of all - humility."