Fort Leonard Wood celebrates Black History Month virtually
Sailors fasten diving equipment onto Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first Black master diver in the U.S. Navy, and father of Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phillip Brashear. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Throughout this month, Fort Leonard Wood shared testimonials and videos on its social media accounts to celebrate and remember Black History Month.

The observance, which is traditionally held as a luncheon at Pershing Community Center, was hosted virtually by the 14th Military Police Brigade to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We must never allow racism, extremism or division to take hold within our ranks,” said Col. Robert Arnold, brigade commander, in a pre-recorded video statement with Command Sgt. Maj. Paul DeSanto. “We must support diversity and inclusion. This is where we find our true strength as a military and as a nation.”

DeSanto said Black service members deserve recognition.

“Throughout our history, the contributions made by African Americans to support our freedom and the pursuit of equality have been extraordinary,” he said.

The command team brought attention to a history of notable contributions of Black Americans, from Crispus Attucks, the first American colonist killed during the Revolutionary War, to Martin Luther King Jr.

“The Harlem Hellfighters of the 369th Infantry Regiment were nicknamed ‘Hellfighters’ by the Germans for their toughness during World War I,” Arnold said. “The unit also fought during World War II.”

“And during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Cook 3rd Class Dorie Miller manned anti-aircraft guns and tended to the wounded,” DeSanto added. “He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.”

Reappearing from last year’s Black History Month observance, where he served as the guest speaker, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phillip Brashear sent his own pre-recorded video to the installation.

“It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down,” Brashear said, quoting his late father Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, who grew up in poverty and went on to become the first Black master diver in the U.S. Navy.

Brashear serves as the command chief warrant officer for the 80th Training Command in Virginia, and previously piloted Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters for the Army.

“My father overcame five hurdles to be the great figure in American history that he is today,” Brashear said. “He had to overcome race; he had to overcome poverty; he had to overcome illiteracy; he had to overcome physical disability; and, before he retired, he had to overcome alcoholism. We relish in the fact that he overcame these things to give us an example today of how we can overcome.”

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jessica Gluth, an emergency management technical training instructor assigned to the 368th Training Squadron here, said the country’s first Black master diver had an impact that spanned across service branches.

“During an incident in Palomares, Spain, in 1966, a B-52 and KC-135 aircraft crashed during refueling and a bomb was lost into the sea,” she said. “Master Chief Carl Brashear was a part of the team that helped rescue that bomb and recover it for U.S. forces.”

Other impacts are still felt to this day. For Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tre Webb, his fondest memories in the military have been of helping others.

“Some of my most memorable experiences in the military are the community service and humanitarian aid projects where we were able to build bridges and schools in host nations,” said Webb, an instructor with the Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Department here. “We were able to better their way of life. Having children walk up to us, hug us and thank us made it all worthwhile.”

Arnold summarized the month-long virtual event.

“The military and civil contributions made by African Americans throughout our history have been truly extraordinary,” he said. “It was a special honor for our team to be selected to present the first virtual celebration of African American History Month on behalf of our commanding general, Brig. Gen. James Bonner.”