ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (February 23, 2021) – Over 100 service members and civilians from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds military community, and 800 more from around the world via Microsoft Teams, participated in APG’s annual Black History Month observance, Feb. 23 at the installation’s Myer Auditorium.
This year’s Black History Month theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. The 20th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the host of this year’s event, called on the voices of two distinguished guest speakers to bring the theme alive.
Lt. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, the Inspector General, Office of the Secretary of the Army; and Maj. Gen Donna Martin, Provost Marshal General and Commanding General, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, shared their views on celebrating Black History Month and on why it is important.
Smith’s voice may have been a familiar one to some in the APG community, as he served as the commanding general for 20th CBRNE Command from July 2010 through May 2013.
Smith began his remarks by saying how happy he was to see such a diverse group of people in the audience. After sharing personal stories about his family, childhood and growing up in Georgia, he suggested that diversity was the strength of the U.S. Army.
“We have to take the time to celebrate the differences among us,” Smith said, “because those differences are what make our army and our nation stronger.”
Martin, one of the very few Black women to have served as a general officer in the U.S. Army, used an active learning strategy to teach Black history to the audience by playing a version of Jeopardy.
Martin stressed the importance of education and questioned why we wait until February to educate people about black history.
“We are an army that celebrates its people,” Martin said. “We ought to celebrate our people all the time – not just in a monthly observance.”
After the event concluded, Brig. Gen. Antonio Munera, commanding general, 20th CBRNE Command and Command Sgt. Maj. Henny Hodgkins, senior enlisted advisor, 20th CBRNE Command, presented three awards.
Maria Brown, musical soloist, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James C. Williams Sr., pastor, Mount Zion Baptist Church, who gave the event’s invocation and Nia Marie Webb, junior, Edgewood High School, for her recital, were all presented with certificates of appreciation.
Munera and Hodgkins also presented gifts to Martin and Smith for their contributions to APG’s Black History Month observance.
Martin said she appreciated the recognition and the occasion.
“These events are important because they help us to understand culture and understanding culture helps us understand each other,” said Martin.