The Fort Hood community gathered at the installation community center to celebrate African-American History Month through song, inspiring words and fellowship on Thursday.

This year’s theme is “African Americans in Times of War,” which honors the contributions of African Americans to the defense of the nation from the Revolutionary War to the Global War on Terrorism.

Col. Steven N. Carozza, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade commander, which hosted the event, gave opening remarks during the ceremony.

“African-American men and women have fought to form and preserve our union, and to promote the ideals of freedom, justice and security, even during those times when their own nation continued to deny them those same privileges,” Carozza said.

Carozza read an excerpt from the book “The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell” authored by retired Lt. Col. Michael Lee Lanning, which read: “For more than 200 years, African-Americans have participated in every conflict in United States history. They have not only fought bravely the common enemies of the United States but have also had to confront the individual and institutional racism of their fellow countrymen.”

Carozza said African-American history is American history.

“It’s at events like this one here today that we each can take the opportunity to salute those African-American soldiers who stood up and chose to serve their nation,” Carozza said. “Today’s ceremony and program is just a small opportunity for each of us to take time to pause and reflect on the great achievements and rich history of the thousands of African-American soldiers who, through their dedication and sacrifice, helped shape the Army into the powerful force we have today.”

The guest speaker for this year’s observance was retired Army Sgt. Maj. Rodney W. Gilchrist, whose last assignment was as the III Corps and Fort Hood paralegal command sergeant major, serving as the senior enlisted adviser to the III Corps and Fort Hood staff judge advocate. He is a combat veteran who served tours both in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Gilchrist said he witnessed many improvements in the Army during his career, specifically the number of African Americans that served in the Army’s judge advocate general career field.

“There were not a lot of African-American leaders in my (career) field,” Gilchrist said. “There were not a lot of black attorneys, but in the 24 years I served I started to see that increase and I was impressed by the time I left there were not only a considerable number of African-American attorneys, but a lot more paralegals in the Army.”

Gilchrist said it took contributions from all races, cultures and ethnicities to make the United States what it is today.

“There would be no United States if there were never people from the various sections of our nation committed and willing to fight and to die for freedom,” Gilchrist said. “From the founding of this great nation, men and women have been willing to take up arms to defend the ideals and the principles of freedom.”

Gilchrist said African Americans have been selflessly serving in the Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War up to and including the current Global War on Terrorism.

“Even while they could not enjoy the freedoms inscribed in the constitution, African Americans were fighting to make and to keep these United States the land of the free,” Gilchrist said. “Even when they could not be publicly honored, they served honorably.”

Gilchrist said the difference he experienced regarding race relations from the military community in contrast with the civilian community is how combat camaraderie can bring people together.

“When you are dependent on someone to keep you alive you treat them better,” Gilchrist said. “You learn how to get along with people when you know your life and their life depend on getting along.”

Gilchrist explained that through those shared experiences, many people’s personal biases can be shed after a couple of years of depending on each other for their mutual well-being.

“When you just start to live as people who serve in the Army, sacrifice and serve together selflessly, you shift your focus from you, and that’s what you learn in the Army,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist said the importance of having these monthly observances are important because history is written by people and people’s perspective shapes how history is written.

“The original history of America didn’t really include black people, so what we are really doing is rewriting history and reshaping it to ensure we include all the people who have contributed to this great nation from the very beginning.”

Gilchrist also had encouraging words for service members who may be discouraged from service because of inner conflicts with the current leadership in the country.

“You don’t serve because of other people, you serve because of the ideals and the principles of the country,” Gilchrist said. “When we get others centered and less self-centered, we will all be better off.”

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