JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Brooke Army Medical Center held an observance Feb. 25 in honor of Black History Month. This year's theme is "Honoring the Past, Securing the Future."
"It is important to recognize and honor the pioneers of the Civil Rights movement and others who have made great strides toward equality in America," said U.S. Army Col. Michael Wirt, BAMC deputy commanding officer. "It's now up to us to continue to make strides toward a better world for our children and grandchildren. Working together, we can achieve a greater understanding of diversity and true equality for all."
Wirt said he sees diversity in action every day in BAMC.
"We would not be where we are today without the tremendous efforts and sacrifices of the brave men and women who fought for equal rights throughout our history," he said, giving examples such as the Tuskegee Airmen, who shattered racial barriers as the first African American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces, and Private Howard Perry, the first African American to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He also highlighted the more recent accomplishments of former Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West and current Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle.
"Because of their tenacity, we are securing a future of inclusion for all people, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender or religion," Wirt said. "The United States military is and will continue to be the greatest force in the world. I truly believe it is because our military embodies the true meaning of diversity."
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dr. Karen Archondidis, deputy commandant, Army Medical Department Noncommissioned Officer Academy, was the guest speaker for the event.
"Today we honor the past as a means of securing the future," Archondidis said, noting that much of black history is chronicled through those who accomplished something first, such as William H. Carney, the first black Soldier to receive the Medal of Honor, and many other African Americans identified throughout history.
"I believe that one day the word 'first' will no longer be a prevalent means of identification with acts of valor," she said. "But rather the measure of success will be one's contribution to humankind, to our collective history as a people."
The former command sergeant major talked about growing up in a military family, and her personal struggles as a child facing discrimination when her family was stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
"It was on this little-known Air Force base when I was made aware that I was different," she said. "I was rejected for something I could not change, the color of my skin."
"We must teach our children our history," Archondidis said. "We must rise above common instances of ignorance. Change does take social and political elements to happen. Change must be demonstrated by our actions."
In closing remarks, BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Oates spoke about Carter G. Woodson, American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson has been called the "father of black history."
"Without Carter G. Woodson there would be no ceremony here today," Oates said. "Without Carter G. Woodson there would be no Black History Month. Without Carter G. Woodson many of our African American brothers and sisters would not be educated and successful."
Oates concluded with a quote from Woodson, "Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed, all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself."
As part of the ceremony, students from Robert G. Cole Middle School read their essays on their dreams for equality in America.
"I have to believe that one day we are going to find diversity as being unremarkable," Archondidis concluded. "I believe that we as a people will be color blind economic equals with only our choices defining us … leading to one history."