Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Three African American Soldiers whose service marked historic milestones in the Army's progress toward diversity are the subject of a new exhibit unveiled Dec. 11 during a ceremony at the National Infantry Museum, just outside Fort Benning.
The "Diversity in Leadership" display includes among other things informational panels and photographs related to three Soldiers, each of whom served at some point in leadership roles at Fort Benning.
Master Sgt. Walter Morris served during World War II with the Army's first All-African American Airborne unit, the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. The unit was activated at Fort Benning in 1943 and later became part of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
Morris was the company's first sergeant, but later continued to serve with the unit after being commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry.
Master Sgt. Milton "Davey" Lockett was the first African American in Army history to serve as an instructor at Fort Benning's elite U.S. Army Ranger School. Lockett joined the Army in 1952 and served in the Korean War and Vietnam War. He was a Ranger instructor for 12 years.
Lt. Gen. Gary M. Brito, while still a major general in 2018, became the first African American to be appointed commanding general of Fort Benning. As such he was also commanding general of Fort Benning's U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Brito completed that assignment earlier this year, was promoted to three-star rank, and currently serves as the Army's 49th Deputy Chief of Staff G-1. In that position he's responsible for developing, managing, and executing manpower personnel plans, programs, and policies for the total Army.
Brito was the ceremony's guest of honor and keynote speaker.
"This is a really unique event as we unveil and dedicate the Diversity in Leadership display," retired Army Brig. Gen. Pete Jones, president and chief operating officer of the National Infantry Museum Foundation, told the audience.
Among those in the audience were Brito, several of his family members, including his Army officer son, and members of the 555th Parachute Infantry Association.
"As many of you know," said Jones, "diversity, and really the quest for inclusion of all individuals, regardless of race and gender, has been ongoing journey for our nation even before its inception.
"The Army, a reflection of our society, has been a huge part of that journey, with minorities fighting for acceptance and equality and equal recognition, not based on race but based on merit," said Jones.
Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general of MCoE and Fort Benning, made brief welcoming remarks before Brito came to the microphone.
Donahoe thanked the museum for its efforts in creating the display, which he said was "really tremendous."
"The three men who are going to be representing inclusion, diversity, excellence, at the training center here, really are remarkable people in their own right," said Donahoe, who then briefly recounted details of their military service.
The three "represent what has been a generational fight for our country," Donahoe said.
Brito, expressing thanks for "this recognition," said "it is not in my mind an individual one. It's an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of many before me, some represented here today, and I know they have some family and friends represented here as well."
He acknowledged "our veterans from the Triple Nickel" in the audience, a reference to the 555th, saying "I had an opportunity to meet you some years back. And gentlemen, thank you. And please note that you personally, and the Soldiers that you represented ... will continue to put a rock in the paved path that many can walk on. And I've been very fortunate to do just that." "Team," said Brito, "a little bit about Fort Benning, and this is why it's a very special moment, again, not about me. It's about the movement and about the opportunity.
He then paraphrased a recent talk he'd heard "on diversity, equity and inclusion," during which it was said that "diversity is having an opportunity to 'get invited to the dance.'
"The inclusion and the equity," said Brito, "is being invited to the dance floor."
That amounts," he said, to continuing "to provide opportunities" for Soldiers across the spectrum of race, national origin, gender, "to excel, when he or she shows the potential, the promise, and the desire to do so ...
"And the challenge ahead for all of us, not just myself," he said, "but more importantly the younger Soldiers of all ranks, genders and nationalities ... is to continue to offer that opportunity to the dance floor.
"For Soldiers to train, for Soldiers to lead, for Soldiers to continue to reach their full potential," said Brito. "And that is what is great about our military, and that is what is great about our Army."
At one point in his remarks Brito said there "will be barriers, there will be obstacles" and later drew on his first-hand experience as a young man weighing his prospects of an Army career.
Brito said he was " extremely honored being part of this recognition today, and very, very thankful for the opportunities that the United States Army has offered this guy, from a small town called Hyannis, Massachusetts – and trust me we were very blue-collar on a good day.
"But I had lots of love in the family, and family that said, 'If you want to do this, get out and do it and work hard.'
"I can recall the day driving through the front gate in March of 1987, then Fort Benning, the 'Home of the Infantry, to begin a career," said Brito.
"It was a culture shock," he said, "an opportunity shock, and damned sure hit some obstacles, both socially, culturally, and at times said, 'I can't make this train.'
"But I can also say that there were some who said 'Yes you can. This is an obstacle. You have the opportunity, and you can get through this.'"
There was, when he was a young lieutenant, said Brito, an occasion when a sergeant gave him a key piece of advice, in the process addressing Brito him with an informal term sometimes used to refer to lieutenants, and also using the abbreviation OER, for Officer Evaluation Report.
"And I also recall a sergeant," said Brito, "that I met my very first assignment who said, 'Hey, L-T' – true story – 'Don't work for your OER, work for those Soldiers that you lead, and everything gonna be okay.'
"And I've used that as a marker to guide me, as many others have, throughout their career. Interpret it any way you want, but I personally took it as a charge and a charter to offer opportunity, leadership, to all of the Soldiers that we are so blessed to lead.
"And that's what this is about," Brito said.
Earlier, at the start of the ceremony, Jones said the new display would play a valuable role "not only in educating our next generation of Soldiers but also the general public on the Army's story of diversity in leadership."