PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- Service members and civilians gathered at the post theater Feb. 26 for a Black History Month observance to recognize and honor African Americans who made significant contributions to the military.
Guest speaker Lt. Col. Nicci S. Rucker, 311th Training Squadron commander, recounted her experiences as an Air Force officer and a black woman.
"When I tell someone I'm in the Air Force, they are often surprised and they automatically assume I'm enlisted," said Rucker. "We owe it to ourselves and those who came before us to change the paradigm . . . to push for more diversity and leadership opportunities for African Americans in the military."
During Rucker's talk she honored many historical figures who opened doors not only for her but for all black people in America.
"I'm able to stand before you today because I stand on the shoulders of giants - those who forged the way so that I could have a better tomorrow," said Rucker.
Her talk was followed by service members representing each service branch giving a presentation focused on black service members who broke barriers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Each of the troops portrayed an African American veteran by addressing the audience in character as the historic figure.
"I wanted them to build a relationship . . . find the things that bring you closer to the character, and bring that character to life," said Staff Sgt. Aisha Bannat, the Military Language Instructor who organized the observance.
The stories ranged from those serving in the 1800's to more recent inspirational figures like Doris Armstrong Daniels, who became the first black female lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps in 1992.
The observance then closed with Col. Gary Hausman, commandant of the Defense Language Institute, speaking about the importance diversity plays in strengthening the military and how the experience of serving the country alongside people with different backgrounds creates better citizens.
"You will leave the military a better person because you can appreciate individuals of different genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions," said Hausman. "It's observances like this today that help us discuss and appreciate these different backgrounds."
The story of Black History Month began in 1915, 50 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and 49 years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded an organization now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 1926, ASALH initiated what was then called Negro History Week and eventually expanded into Black History Month, which has been recognized by every American president since 1976.