Commentary: National African American History Month:

BRANDON DELOACH/U.S. Air Force
Each February we celebrate National African American History Month and honor African-American heritage and individuals who have made major societal impacts.
By AIRMAN 1ST CLASS JAMES THOMPSON
432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
March 2, 2017

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — African-American influence is infused with the American culture foundation, and transcends generations of segregation and oppression. African-American authors, civil rights activists and even Air Force pilots forged the way forward, and broke down racial barriers through literary influence, civil rights demonstrations and service to country.

To commemorate and acknowledge these figures, National African American History Month honors those who have made significant contributions toward equality, justice and innovation that helped shape the Air Force as we know it today. Their idealism currently lives on through many Airmen as they serve their country.

Today African Americans continue to make a difference in the Air Force and at Creech Air Force Base by flying, maintaining and supporting MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers in global persistent attack and reconnaissance operations.

NAAHM provides a glimpse through the many open doors of opportunity for young African Americans, said Master Sgt. Vidal, 22nd Attack Squadron first sergeant. Vidal recounts early memories as a child when he was encouraged by his father to read literature by W.E.B. Dubois and said the impact of it shaped his views toward education and self-motivation. 

“It really empowered me, showing me education was a founding source of future opportunities,” said Vidal.

Vidal said works by W.E.B. Dubois and other influential figures were groundbreaking and instrumental to his upbringing.

“A lot of the people who we talk about and celebrate in NAAHM were pioneers and they did something no other African Americans had done up to that point,” said Lt. Col. Ronnie, 432nd Wing squadron commander. “I think it’s equally important to point to successful African Americans who are out there making it happen right now.”

Ronnie and Vidal said the efforts of those before are derived from core values that exemplify American Airmen, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and other African Americans who made an impact early on.

“Those guys proved that African Americans were just as capable, intelligent, hard-working and credible as anyone else,” said Senior Master Sgt. Marquell, 432nd Maintenance Squadron Tiger Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent.

The Tuskegee program became the center for African-American aviation during World War II, and the Tuskegee Airmen became one of the most highly respected fighter groups because of their achievements.

“The Tuskegee Airmen in my mind embodied the Air Force’s core values, not just African-American core values,” said Ronnie. “They weren’t about being the best African-American unit. They were about being the best pilots they could be. They have had that impact, not just to the advantage of African Americans in the Air Force, but they made all Airmen in the Air Force better.”

Coming from military families, both Ronnie and Vidal agree their biggest role models are their own family members. Morals and values such as education, family, professionalism and leadership were instilled in them from their fathers and grandfathers.

“I’m a fan of works by Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but one of the few people who have had a significant impact on me was my grandfather,” said Marquell. “He was a hard working guy and a man of principle who took care of his family with literally nothing. There’re some people you’ll see in your life who surpass being a role model. They’re significant figures who make you who you are, simply by watching them be who they are.”

Marquell credits his own upbringing and the work of African Americans before him for his success in today’s fight and stresses the importance of passing the torch to the next generation.

“I come from poverty and an upbringing without academics as a key component, to now having two associates degrees, one professional manager’s certification, one bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and made chief master sergeant this cycle,” said Marquell. “How can I bequeath anything to Airmen about being academically sound, reading books about Malcom X or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the importance of having an education if I don’t do it? The bulk of what I’ve done was to establish credibility to help others along the way.”

Marquell went on to say the accomplishments of African Americans in the armed forces also play a part in establishing a more diverse fighting force.

“Diversity and our differences make us stronger,” said Marquell. “It is why the United States Air Force doesn’t have any other air force that rivals us. Other countries can buy aircraft, but what they can’t buy is a group of people who are able to work together in spite of differences to make our community as a whole better. When we focus on meeting our core values and allow diversity to fill the gaps, we are unstoppable.”

For these three Airmen, NAAHM serves as a reminder of the persistence and perseverance of African Americans whose legacy continues to resonate across the rifts of time and inspire thousands of United States service men and women.

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