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Diversity is our strength: African American History Month

A photo of military boots during the deployment ceremony for the Alabama Army National Guard 128th Military Police Company leaving for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Bob Gathany/HVT/TNS)
February 14, 2021

The contributions of the generations of African Americans that have served their country is an integral part of American history and the Army’s history.

They were not always given the respect and honor due to them, but they have left an indelible mark on history and on our society. We have never fought a war in which African Americans did not serve proudly. The Army simply could not accomplish its missions without the skill and dedication of ALL of its members.

This has been a sobering year in the history of our country. In the Army, and across America, we have been forced to consider how inclusive our society and our military really is. Soldiers actively sharing their voices on the need to improve and expand opportunities for inclusion was met by engaged leadership listening from the highest levels on social media, in listening sessions and bottom-up feedback. While we have more achievements and milestones to highlight from our diverse force each day, there is still much room to improve.

Signs of change are visible at the highest levels as the Department of Defense appointed its first African American secretary of defense since the position’s inception in 1947: retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin.

As the Army continues to review and reaffirm its commitment to “People First” by being a more inclusive and representative American institution, it demonstrates this through policy changes. This includes sweeping changes like removing photos from promotion boards in an effort to eliminate unconscious bias, ongoing modifications for expanded acceptance of diversity in hair and uniform appearance policies, and updating its Diversity and Inclusion training across Professional Military Education from the ranks of Private to General Officer and Senior Executive Service Members.

Today, African Americans make up about 19 percent of our total Army and serve at every level of military leadership. Many come from a long line of Army service – their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers served a country that did not honor their citizenship in the most basic of ways.

In the 3rd Infantry Division African Americans play vital roles to include the Division top enlisted leader, as brigade commanders, and as brigade senior enlisted advisors. Every day, Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division make a difference for their peers, units, communities, and our nation’s defense. African Americans have courageously served our nation alongside people of all races.

From Chaplains to chemical specialists to Command Sergeants Major of infantry battalions, Dogface Soldiers epitomize strength and selflessness. Noted for being “not flashy, just tough,” we find our true strength in our ability to bring together people of different races, cultures and faiths that share common values like duty, honor, selfless service, loyalty and respect.

The strength of our formations is built not only on being the world’s most lethal force, but on our diversity of talent – knowledge, skills, behaviors, and preferences – drawn from all corners of our country and its vibrant, multi-cultural population.

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Reid (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Zoe Garbarino)

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Reid, the senior enlisted advisor of the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, in Fort Benning, Georgia, is a native of Fitzgerald, Georgia. He joined the Army as a mechanized infantryman and has held every leadership position from team leader to battalion command sergeant major. He has trained a multitude of Soldiers throughout his career, having served as an instructor for the Basic Non Commissioned Officer Course and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Troy University.

On July 3, 2007, then Staff Sergeant Reid saved the lives of four American Soldiers and one Iraqi Interpreter after an improvised explosive device struck his Bradley Fighting Vehicle while deployed with the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. For his heroism and gallant actions, Reid received the Silver Star Medal. The Silver Star Medal is the military’s third highest decoration for valor in combat against an enemy of the U.S.

While managing the Expert Infantryman and Expert Soldier Badge training and testing for 310 Soldiers, he stated, “Starting the day motivated and with a positive attitude brings better attitudes to everyone around you. Put your all into everything you do every day. Have no regrets and learn from life lessons. Most people are most interested in your journey of how you got to where you are and not so much as the position or title. The journey is what makes the person. Not the title or position.”

U.S. Army Capt. Nicole P. Nelms (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Devron Bost)

U.S. Army Capt. Nicole P. Nelms is a brigade medical supply officer in the 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Stewart, Georgia. She was commissioned into the Army in May 2016 as a Medical Service Corps second lieutenant after graduating from South Carolina State as a distinguished military graduate. “Serving in the military as an African American female allows me to honor and continue the legacy of the strong, determined women from my family. In the Army, I am able to interact with people from all over the world and learn new skills that I do not think I would have discovered working a normal job.”

U.S. Army Spc. Orfeo R. Joseph (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Thompson)

U.S. Army Spc. Orfeo R. Joseph, a chemical biological radiological nuclear specialist assigned to 92nd Chemical Company, 83rd CBRN Battalion, on Fort Stewart, Georgia, is from Paramaribo, Suriname. On February 2, 2021, he earned his American citizenship. Joseph holds a master of business administration degree in entrepreneurship from the FHR Institute for Social Studies. “Your quality is your quality… just try to focus on being the best you are regardless the color of your skin.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Sean Larson (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Savannah Roy)

U.S. Army Sgt. Sean Larson, a UH-60 helicopter repairer with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, on Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, was fascinated with helicopters as a child which ultimately led him to join the Army.

U.S. Army Spc. Devron Bost (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ragin)

U.S. Army Spc. Devron Bost, assigned to the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, on Fort Stewart, Georgia, was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and joined the military as a quartermaster and chemical equipment repairer. Bost was recognized for his photography skills while serving in his additional duty as a unit public affairs representative. He received honorable mention in the Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Communications Competition at the U.S. Forces Command level. “As I look back to where I came from, I hope to inspire the younger generation to take what life has given them and make it the best that it can be.”

U.S. Army Pfc. Precious Harris (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Summermadeleine Keiser)

U.S. Army Pfc. Precious Harris, a fire control specialist with the fire control element of 3rd Infantry Division Artillery, on Fort Stewart, Georgia, joined the Army after completing bachelors degrees in both criminal justice and sociology from The College at Brockport, State University of New York. “Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to take opportunities- you just have to push through. If you’re given an opportunity, take it and run.”

U.S. Army Capt. Peter Nwokoye, a chaplain with the 1st Battalion (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Summermadeleine Keiser)

U.S. Army Capt. Peter Nwokoye, a chaplain with the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team holds a religious service for Soldiers currently conducting a training mission on Fort Stewart, Georgia. As a priest of 21 years, Nwokoye recalls seeing a viral social media video of Soldiers with weapons knelt in prayer and he was inspired to join. “I could see the faith, and I could see as well that they did not believe that their weapon is where their power lies. Providing religious support to the Army- I see this as a ministry, as a vocation, as a calling.”

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kiyomi Thursby (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andrew Mcneil)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kiyomi Thursby, a chemical biological radiological nuclear specialist assigned to 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, on Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, joined the Army to travel the world, protect and defend the country, and further her education. She has earned two college degrees. A bachelor’s degree in business management from Colorado Tech University, an associate’s degree in business administration from Central Texas College, and three national medical certifications. “I wanted to honor and show pride to my family members who had served before me and who are still serving. I also wanted to show them that they are appreciated and valued for leading the way for our family and for setting the example of great leadership, and the unselfish act of protecting and serving from the frontlines.”

U.S. Army Spc. Jaquavious K. Williams (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Thompson)

U.S. Army Spc. Jaquavious K. Williams, a culinary specialist assigned to the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division on Fort Stewart, Georgia, is from Atlanta, where he graduated from Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School in 2017. Williams has been interested in art since he was 10 years old. His recent artwork honoring Prisoner of War/ Missing in Action Soldiers and families was a popular centerpiece at a 3rd ID Thanksgiving meal. Williams said he joined the Army because “I just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

U.S. Army Pfc. Wood-Terry Zomme (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Savannah Roy)

U.S. Army Pfc. Wood-Terry Zomme, a human resource specialist assigned to 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, on Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and migrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he graduated from Upper Darby High School in 2018.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Allen (U.S. Army photo by Specialist Daniel Thompson)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Allen, an information technology specialist assigned to the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion at Fort Stewart, Georgia, is from Miami, Florida, where she graduated from Miami Jackson Senior High School. She is a student at Fayetteville Technical Community College pursuing an associate degree in information technology. “Serving in the military as an African American means we have succeeded through all adversities. We highlight the sacrifices made and suffering endured for the sake of racial equality.”