Outside the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia there is a marker commemorating the service of American Civil War veteran Sgt. William H. Carney.
Carney, who was born into the institution of slavery in southern Virginia in 1840, enlisted in the U.S. Army as a free man during the American Civil War. When the color guard of his 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was killed in the Battle of Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina, Carney retrieved the U.S. flag and marched forward despite being shot several times. He was the first black service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry in battle. His likeness now welcomes visitors to the first national museum to tell the story of America’s oldest military service.
Carney’s story, and thousands more, are celebrated during Army Heritage Month in June and recognized during the Juneteenth National Independence Day, which officially became the eleventh federal holiday in 2021.
The histories of African Americans and the U.S. Army are significantly intertwined.
Much like America’s original Independence Day, the U.S. Army played a fundamental role in securing the freedoms extended to Black Americans by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Reconstruction Amendments. The U.S. Army remembers its role in the liberation of enslaved persons throughout the Confederacy as one of its core legacies. For many Americans, Juneteenth is a “second” Independence Day celebrating the end of slavery.
All three leaders from the command group, who happen to be African-American, feel honored to celebrate this federal holiday for the first time in the Army, and within the 21st TSC.
For the Army who just finished celebrating their 247th birthday, this is a celebration and a testament to their diversity and inclusion principles, as well as an honor to every minority leader who paved the way for the new generation of leaders.
"It's an honor to be in the Army and officially celebrate Juneteenth this year," said Maj. Gen. James Smith, commanding general, 21st Theater Sustainment Command. "As we celebrate Army Heritage month, we remember the legacy of the great African Americans who paved the way for us in the military and in the multitude of professional sectors of society.”
Within American society, many are dual-hatted serving their civilian-based corporations while also defending their country within these professional societies.
Brig. Gen. Wanda Williams, commanding general, 7th Mission Support Command is no stranger to that lifestyle.
Williams not only commands her organization and serves as the deputy commanding general of the 21st TSC, but she is also an accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Serving as the first black female commanding general of the 7th MSC, the Juneteenth holiday is a reflection of how far the U.S. has come in its efforts to make institutions more representative of the people they serve.
"As an Army Reservist within the only forward MSC in the Army, I am a constant and proud advocate for the U.S. Army Reserve, where African Americans make up one out of every five Soldiers,” said Williams. “I am proud of the legacy we continue to build upon and it is an honor to celebrate this holiday officially this year.”
Entering into a unit with active duty and reserve component Soldiers comes with significant challenges. This is nothing new for Command Sgt. Maj. Kofie Primus, senior enlisted advisor, 21st TSC.
Primus relinquished responsibility of the 405th Army Field Support Brigade May 26, which is composed of a predominantly DA Civilian organization. There, employees from the unit’s host nation, active duty and reserve Soldiers and our nation’s Allies are an integral part of the Army’s Prepositioned Stocks operations.
Building a team built on dignity, respect and understanding is the basic building blocks of any organization. Primus intends on enforcing those same values and principles as the new senior enlisted adviser of Team 21, and is emphasizing those key aspects during Army Heritage Month.
"As NCO's it is our job to take care of Soldiers and create an inclusive environment with mutual respect and team cohesion," said Primus. “This nation and the Army is doing that, because Juneteenth honors Black Soldiers who fought and sacrificed to ensure the Constitution fulfilled its promise to all Americans."
Juneteenth is holiday for every American. This Army Heritage Month, as we celebrate all cultures and customs within our elite organization, Team 21’s leaders embody the hope and spirit of this nation’s past, and bright future of our Army.