I got an email from a representative of the Army public affairs with an attached interview from a third generation Black solider, Captian George Harris. This is meant to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Integration of the Armed Forces, which took place on July 26 of 1948. While I am personally vehemently against the current wars/occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, I believe the interview touches on the legacy of segregation and the Black struggle for freedom and equality in this country. It’s definitely worth checking out. *This Q-and-A was conducted by the Department of the Army’s Operation Tribute to Freedom program which shares stories of Soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What have your father and grandfather shared with you about the challenges they faced as black Soldiers in an Army that was making the transition from segregated units to being a fully integrated force?
I remember my father remarking on the discrimination he and his fellow [African American] Soldiers faced when they were coming through the ranks. When it came to competing for a promotion or testing up into a different level they could see that there was some very overt discrimination. As my father went through the years he said those things started to go away. Now I feel I have to be sure I do not take for granted what they went through. They paved the way for me.
How have your experiences as an African American Soldier in the Army differed from those of your grandfather and father?
When I talk about military history with my friends who are African American officers or white officers, I always add the perspective that just a generation ago I could not have commanded white Soldiers. This statement alone shows how recent some of these changes in the military have been and how far we’ve moved.
Why do you think that a diverse Army is a stronger Army?
Diversity makes a stronger Army because you bring the best and brightest from all walks of life and allow them to make decisions as a group. A military where everyone thinks and acts alike would be a weak one. If you have a varied group of thinkers your strategies and tactics will be far more advanced than anything your enemy can think of.
Why do you think it is important for the Army to commemorate and reflect on its history?
It brings things into context and helps us understand where we came from, where we are and where we need to go. Even though we are acknowledging a positive milestone in the 60th Anniversary of the Integration of the Armed Forces, there still needs to be an understanding of the darker periods in our history. We’re doing things better, but we need to be continually working to create a more diverse and more inclusive Army.
What does this anniversary mean to you personally?
I am an infantry officer and having commanded troops of all colors, ethnicities and backgrounds, I know my job is to be extremely fair and not allow any prejudice, stereotype or negative influence affect the way I command my troops. Ultimately, my goal is to ensure each of my Soldiers completes their mission and comes home safe to their family. In all of this, race and color shouldn’t be an issue and isn’t an issue.
Were your father and mother supportive of your decision to join the Army?
Both my parents were very supportive. They didn’t push me into it but they were very open about it. They said, “Do the things you think you are interested in,” which for me was marksmanship, the drill team and some of the adventure groups they had through the JROTC program at my high school. My father and I also had conversations about enlisting where he said to me, “Go in as an officer.” He felt this was the best opportunity to advance and gain new responsibilities.
What will you tell your daughters if they express interest in joining the Army?
I would sit down with them and ask what their motivation is for joining, because joining the Army is not just about getting college money. It’s about service for your country and you have to know what you’re getting into. You may be called to war; you may be called to sacrifice for your country.
What do you hope to see in the next generation of the Army?
I would like to see an Army where every young Soldier has the opportunity to do whatever he or she puts their mind to; an Army where each individual can put their skills to the best use of the country and in a way that makes that individual into the best person they can be.