By Staff Sgt. Joe ArmasFebruary 20, 2012
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- In 1976, former President Gerald Ford declared the month of February as Black History Month. As America was on the brink of celebrating 200 years of independence, he said that Americans should "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
In Afghanistan, more than 35 years since Ford's proclamation, soldiers from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division followed suit, marking Black History Month with an observance Feb. 18 at the Camp Marmal Chapel.
The theme for the event was "the creation of freedom" which focused on the contributions of black American inventors, according to Staff Sgt. Dana Elias, originally from Phoenix, the equal opportunity adviser for Headquarters Support Company, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st ACB.
Elias said that when the topic of black history comes up, the focus is often on the civil rights pioneers, so the idea was to deviate somewhat from that and highlight others who have left their mark on American society.
Through slideshows, speeches and songs, the soldiers of the 615th ASB honored the legacies of prominent black Americans such as George Washington Carver and Dr. Charles Richard Drew.
"This aspect of black history sometimes goes unnoticed," said Elias. "People need to know that without their [the inventors] contributions, America wouldn't be the great country that it is today."
Spc. Phillip Marsh, from Memphis, Tenn., a light wheel mechanic assigned to HSC, 615th ASB, highlighted the accomplishments of Garrett Augustus Morgan, an inventor who mainly focused on finding methods to enhance public safety.
Morgan was one of the many black Americans who deserve credit for making America a better place to live, said Marsh.
"It's important that we pay tribute to the people who paved the way for all of us," added Marsh.
Marsh said a lot has changed for blacks in America since Morgan's time, and that most of the change has been positive.
"We've come a long way…not just black Americans but all Americans,'" he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Zantisha McGill, originally from Andrews, S.C., said she appreciated the chance to take part in what she deemed "a history lesson for everyone". The ceremony was an opportunity to put the legacy of black Americans in perspective, she added.
"Celebrating [Black History Month] gives us a chance to explore our roots and see where we are now in comparison to where we were back then," said McGill, the ground maintenance non-commissioned officer in charge for the 1st ACB, assigned to HSC, 615th ASB.
The guest speaker for the event was Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Durant, from Pittsburgh, the senior enlisted adviser for the 615th ASB.
Durant praised the soldiers who organized the event and emphasized the importance of commemorating black history. He said the historic election of President Barack Obama is proof that black Americans now have the opportunity to reach the pinnacle of American society, a notion that was unthinkable at one point.
"We're no longer defined by the past," he said in reference to the civil rights struggle of the 1960's and other tumultuous time periods for black Americans.
"America is moving forward," he added.
Durant said that ethnic observances like Black History Month should be a chance for people of all backgrounds to celebrate the cultural diversity that exists in the Army and in the general population.
"Black history, like that of others, should be recognized as part of American culture, not separate from it," said Durant.