For many, Black History Month is a time to highlight the contributions and impact African Americans have made throughout the history of the United States and beyond. But for one Fort Gordon officer, Black History Month “means everything.”
Lt. Col. Laura Bellot, deputy garrison commander for Transformation, comes from very humble beginnings. The third of four siblings and only sister, Bellot was born in New York City to Haitian immigrants. Her parents made it to the states thanks to her grandfather, who paved the way by saving enough money from working in a cafeteria. Shortly after arriving in New York, Bellot’s father landed an apprenticeship as a carpenter –which she said was significant because back then it was very rare for a person of color to have such an opportunity.
“Because he was able to get into the apprenticeship and get into the union, he was actually able to get a decent job and was able to buy a house,” Bellot said. “That set the stage for so much. These all had ripple effects, and we were … extremely blessed in that token.”
Bellot was 2 years old when her family left New York to settle in a predominantly white New Hampshire neighborhood – quite a contrast from the melting pot of New York City. Curious to know the reason they moved, Bellot’s mother told her, “New York was busy,” and she “just wanted some place quiet.”
The move also put them closer to Bellot’s grandmother, who lived in Massachusetts and became a source of her fondest childhood memories. Every Sunday, Bellot would go to her grandmother’s place for dinner. Bellot, her cousins and other extended family crammed into the small two-bedroom apartment, but nobody seemed to mind the tight space. Her grandmother was an “amazing cook,” and everyone was there for “good food and family,” she said, adding that they also used Sundays to practice speaking other languages.
“My grandmother didn’t speak English, so that forced us to speak French and Creole,” Bellot said.
Education became a top priority in Bellot’s life at a very young age and still is to this day.
“Coming from Haiti, a third world country where not everybody gets to go to school, education was super important in my family, so going to school was a job for us meaning that you go to school to learn, and that was something that was ingrained in me,” Bellot said.
Sitting at home and being lazy was never an option.
“Anything worth doing, you have to give 100 percent,” she said.
Bellot credits her family for what she described as an “insane work ethic.” And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I watched my mom work two jobs … we all felt that coming to America was an opportunity that we weren’t going to throw away because being here means somebody sacrificed for us to be here,” Bellot said. “It has always been, ‘You have to take full advantage of the opportunities you have been given,’ and since day one, everything has been done with that mentality.”
That mentality has carried her well through life – specifically in the military – although looking back, she never could have predicted she’d be where she is today.
Bellot had her mind set on going to college, but knew her parents could not afford to pay for it. While talking to a fellow student with similar aspirations, Bellot learned about the Army Reserves. And in May 1988, she enlisted (as an administrative specialist) to pay for college.
While attending Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, majoring in business management, Bellot was activated and provided support to units that were deploying in support of Operation Desert Storm. Instead of putting her college education on hold, Bellot worked during the day then continued taking courses at night to keep up.
“I enjoyed feeling like part of a team and working towards a mission,” Bellot said of being activated. “I liked the structure and even working long hours – that sense of ‘let’s get it done.’”
Bellot was eventually approached joining the Active Guard Reserve – something she had not previously heard of, but went for and was happy to be given the opportunity.
“I loved putting the uniform on and I loved helping people,” she said.
Being AGR enabled her to finish her college degree at night and ultimately helped set her up for the next major step in her military career. Bellot was a staff sergeant on the list to be promoted when her captain asked if she had ever considered becoming an officer. That captain encouraged her to put together a direct commission packet, and Bellot followed through. Bellot commissioned as a combat engineer in November 2000.
“Needless to say, it worked out,” Bellot said. “It goes back to people seeing things in you that you don’t see in yourself and taking advantage of every opportunity.”
Commissioning as a combat engineer was “one of the best decisions” she made in her military career, Bellot said.
“I never would’ve picked engineer for myself, but the Army put me in that direction,” she explained. “Had I still been in the admin field, I would’ve been one of many, but as an engineer, it’s a predominantly male field and it’s not a predominantly field of color, so I felt I was given a lot of opportunities.”
While her current line of work revolves around Fort Gordon’s transformation, Bellot estimates “90 percent” of her job is building and maintaining relationships.
“The thing about being an officer-engineer is you don’t need to be the [subject matter expert] on everything; you need to be an expert at managing it,” she explained, “and that means knowing who to reach out to for the expertise, which requires some sort of base knowledge.”
And she makes a point to share some of her knowledge with others along the way. Like many have poured into her, Bellot tries to pour into others. She has been known to stop junior Soldiers and ask them how they are doing. And her advice to them is this:
“Never let someone take your sunshine away … you determine your narrative and your self-worth, not somebody else,” she said. “Don’t let it be measured by others because you’re going to run into people who want to tear you down and make you feel less than what you are. If you know what that is for you, nobody is going to tear you down.”