U.S. Forces Command, Public Affairs Office

Every year during the month of February the Army pays special tribute to African American Soldiers and Civilians.

In 1926, G. Carter Woodsen, a black historian, helped to raise cultural awareness by starting Black History week. In 1976, the week was lengthened to a month and observed in black schools, churches and YMCAs around the country.

This year's African American History Month officially began on Tuesday, February 1st 2011. The U.S. Census Bureau deemed this as the "time to recall and honor the many contributions to our nation made by people of African descent."

President Truman's Executive Order integrated the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948 and since that time, the Army has been racially diverse and provided equal opportunities to all Soldiers. African Americans, however, have been involved with the U.S. Military for over 200 years, beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing on to today's conflicts in the Middle East and other overseas operations.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the month of February as National Black (African American) History Month.

During African American History Month we all can look to the men and women who went before us and helped break down barriers or succeed under less than favorable conditions. The newspapers and history books are filled with many examples from the military alone that have paved the way for future generations.

As we focus on the contributions from African Americans in the Armed Forces, there are many examples from the past and present that stand out or have close ties to our own lives.

Two prominent examples include, firstly, U.S. President Barack Obama who was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He broke down more barriers when he became the first African American Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces.

A second example is Cathay Williams, whose military service preceded President Obama by almost 150 years. In 1866, Williams became the first black female to enlist in the Army when she disguised herself as a man in order to serve her country as a Buffalo Soldier.

Throughout the month of February there will be many ways to learn more about the African American experience, when military installations invite speakers to come and share their knowledge and insights during the month long celebration.

It's a unique opportunity to take this time to learn more of what this diverse nation has to offer.

If you are unable to attend a scheduled event, you may find time to visit local museums and art galleries. Nearly all of them will focus on the contributions of Black artists, inventors, musicians and others during this month or read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream"http://www.mlkonline.net/dream.html) speech to learn more about the African American experience.

Another great source to learn about how African Americans served in the Armed Forces is the excellent series, For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots (http://www.forloveofliberty.org/).