As the nation pauses this Veteran’s Day to honor past and present members of our fighting forces, a brief review of the long list of African American men and women in the military reveals faith in country, courage within and outside of battle, and above all personal strength and spiritual conviction.
The list of these Black military leaders has not always been a staple of high school history courses, yet the following individuals past and present have been an inspiration to Black America for more than a century. Famous names like Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first Black man to graduate from West Point Military Academy (1877); Lt. Col. Charles Young, a military strategist and one of the original “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 10th Cavalry, as well as a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt and in later years became America’s highest-ranking Black soldier; Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the nation’s first Black general; his son, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, and Doris “Dorie” Miller, Pearl Harbor hero and the first Black person to receive the Navy Cross, are but a few of the famous African Americans who earned national acclaim for military service. Sometimes it was a contingent of African Americans that changed the course of battle, such as the famous exploits of the all-Black 24th Combat Infantry in Korea.
When this combat unit crossed the Han River near Seoul in 1951, Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway commented to the press: “… [this] was the most successful single action fought by troops under my command during either World War II in Europe or in Korea.” The 24th Infantry was the last segregated unit in the United States Army.
That’s the old days.
When the world watched the 1991 invasion of Iraq, the appearance of then National Security Advisor Gen. Colin Powell placed his image in the pantheon among some of the great names in African American history. And, the list keeps growing. Here’s a brief look at some of the most illustrious names who continue to change the face of the American military:
—Gen. Dennis L. Via. A four-star United States Army general, Via in 2012 became the 18th Commander of the United States Army Material Command. He began his career with the 35th Signal Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corp. at Fort Bragg, N.C. Among his command assignments are the 82nd Signal Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, the United States Army Europe and 7th Army in Mannheim, Germany, and the 3rd Signal Brigade, III Armored Corp. based at Fort Hood, Texas.
—Adm. Cecil D. Haney. As commander of the United States Strategic Command, Adm. Haney is the former commander of the United States Pacific Fleet. Among his decorations are the Navy Distinguished Service Medal (two awards), Defense Superior Service Medal (two awards), Legion of Merit (four awards), and the Navy and Marine Corp. Commendation Medal (three awards). In 1998, Adm. Haney received the Adm. James Bond Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership.
—Gen. Vincent K. Brooks. Gen. Brooks may be the most visible of today’s Black military leaders, often holding televised press conferences during the opening salvos of the second Iraq War. Gen. Brooks is the commanding general of the United States Army Pacific and once served as commanding general of the 3rd Army. He was the Army Deputy Director of Operations during the second Iraq War in 2003, and previously served as the Chief of Army Public Affairs at the Pentagon. At West Point, he rose to the rank of Cadet First Captain, the highest position for a cadet, and was the first Black person to achieve this title.
—Adm. Michelle J. Howard. Adm. Howard, the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations, is the first American woman to hold that position. Before her promotion in July, Adm. Howard served as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy. She was the first Black woman to have achieved the three- and four-star ranks, as well as being the first Black woman to become an admiral, and the first African American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Rushmore.
—Maj. Gen. Ronald Bailey. In 2011, Maj. Gen. Bailey assumed command of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division, becoming the first Black person to command the oldest, largest and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corp. In attendance that day were two dozen retired Marines, members of the Montford Point Marine Assn., a group dedicated to preserving the legacy of the segregated boot camp in North Carolina where African American recruits were trained. Bailey acknowledged the legacy of the Montford Point Marines: “I stand on your shoulders,” he said.
—Rear Adm. Annie B. Andrews. In 2013, Rear Adm. Andrews took command of the Navy Recruiting Command. Prior to this appointment, she served as commanding officer of a number of recruiting offices, among them the Recruit Training Command where she led the efforts of more than 100,000 sailors for duty in the Navy Fleet, and was instrumental in commissioning the U.S. Navy’s only immersive simulator trainer, the USS Trayer, also known as “Battle Stations 21.”
—Maj. Gen. Edward L. Bolton Jr. Maj. Gen. Bolton is deputy assistant secretary for budget within the Office of Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller. He leads a staff of civilian and military financial managers who are responsible for the formulation and execution of the Air Force’s annual $110 billion budget. He formerly commanded the 30th Range Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.
—Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown. Vice Adm. Brown is the commander of the United States Coast Guard Pacific Area. His previous commands have included the 14th Coast Guard District, Maintenance and Logistics Command Pacific in Honolulu, and he was once the military assistant to the Secretary of Transportation. He also served as chief of officer for personnel management at the Coast Guard Personnel Command.
—Maj. Gen. Gwen Bingham. Maj. Gen. Bingham is the commander of the TACOM (formerly Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command) Life Cycle Management Command at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Mich. She previously served as commanding general of the White Sands Missile Range, was the 51st Quartermaster General of the United States Army, and was the first woman to be commandant of the U.S. Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, Va.
—Maj. Gen. Nadja West. Last year, Maj. Gen. West became the first African American two-star general in the U.S. Army Medical Command, serving as deputy chief of staff. A physician, Gen. West was once division surgeon of the 1st Armored Division in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, and once served as deputy task force surgeon in Macedonia as well as in Kosovo. She is also a national security advisor.