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Celebrating African American History Month

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- February is African American History Month. According to the Association for the study of African American Life and History, the founders of the month long celebration, this year's theme is "Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories."

To honor African American History Month at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, a celebration luncheon is scheduled for 11 a.m. Feb. 23, at the Carolina Skies Club and Conference Center. The Rev. Eliza Black from the historical Reid Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church will be the guest speaker.

African Americans contributed and helped shape the military development of the U.S. armed forces through innovation, perseverance, and dedication to idealism. Since the American Revolution, African Americans fought in every conflict, whether at home or abroad, to bring independence and freedom to every corner of the globe.

Rising from simple stock clerks and frontline musket infantrymen, the roles of African Americans not only evolved with time, but expanded into career fields like that of surgeons, chiefs of staff, pilots, and lawyers. African Americans, through innovation and technology, spearheaded the improvement of society on and off the battlefield.

As blacks were incorporated into flying units like the 99th Pursuit Squadron, better known as America's Tuskegee Airmen, new tactics emerged, like the swarming of P-51 Mustangs around the B-17 Flying Fortresses, which resulted in saving lives. They inadvertently created new strategies for winning wars with minimal unnecessary casualties. Their determination on the battlefield helped shape modern warfare.

Through perseverance and dedication to their country, African Americans had to overcome many stigmatisms.  During the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War, they fought alongside their counterparts in some of the fiercest of fights and not only earned their place in history as a premiere fighting force, but honor and respect as well.

As African Americans expanded their roles within the armed forces, many achieved notable positions. U.S. Army Gen. Colin Luther Powell rose through the ranks, from 1958 through 1993; he became the first African American to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in his civilian career became the 65th Secretary of State.

Another notable example is Seaman Apprentice Robert Augustus Sweeney, who is one of 19 servicemen and the only African American, to receive the Medal of Honor two times. He saved the lives of fellow sailors from drowning, once in 1881 and again in 1883.

Units today have felt the incorporation of African American presence or leadership that stemmed from individuals' actions during times of crises, bringing aid to the country.

Without the contributions of African Americans to military history, tactics like that of the Tuskegee Airmen might not have been developed. In addition, technological innovations like the modern gas mask and safety hood, invented by Garrett Morgan, might not have saved lives in World War I.

Through innovation, perseverance, and dedication, African Americans made contributions that are prevalent in today's society. Please make it a point this month to get out and learn something new; go to an exhibit, gospel concert or play, book reading or tour some of South Carolina's historical towns. The African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, displays this information for future generations, as a beacon leading the way into the future, by honoring the past.