In line with the national Black History Month theme of “African Americans in Times of War,” Chief Warrant Officer Paul Spencer brought Army Junior ROTC cadets from Mansfield High School in Louisiana to Kilgore Middle School to participate in KMS’ annual Black History Month program.
The Killeen High School graduate explained the heritage associated with Black History Month in America and that African Americans’ military service goes back to the American Revolution.
The KMS communications department put together a presentation of black men and women who defied discrimination and racism to serve in the military and make a difference in the war effort. The annual Black History Month program also included performances from the KMS band, orchestra and choir, Kilgore High School’s Voices of Soul and a choral reading by the KMS English students. Darren Richardson, principal of Gladewater ISD’s Weldon Elementary School, ended the program with a performance of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“Since the founding of our great nation, blacks have served in the armed forces with dignity and honor. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives that we may be free,” Spencer said. “It’s because of those great warriors – my parents included, both Army combat veterans – that I stand before you today, a proud combat veteran with tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The theme of recognizing African Americans in the armed forces allows students to learn more about the contributions they made throughout the course of American history.
“Did you know that African Americans during the Revolutionary War, more than 5,000 blacks fought for the American cause, both men and women? Did you know that Blacks made up 15 percent of all US naval forces during the War of 1812? Did you know that during the civil War, Blacks served both the Confederate and Union side? And in the Union army, over 179,000 Blacks served, most notably the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, whose story was brought to the big screen in the movie “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington,” he told the crowd gathered in the Kilgore Middle School gym. “Did you know that during the Indian Wars of Western Expansion through the Spanish-American War, the US 9th and 10th Cavalry served… and because of their toughness, curly hair and other features, the Comanche Indians gave them the nickname the Buffalo Soldiers?”
He also told the audience about the 396th Infantry regiment during WWI. The company earned their nickname, the Harlem Hellfighters, from the Germans because of their toughness and because they never lost a trench or any ground to the enemy.
In WWII, there were Patton’s Panthers, the 761st Tank Battalion and the Army Air Corps’ Tuskegee Airmen, whose story was featured in the movie “Red Tails,” he said.
“Did you know since Vietnam in the 1960s to the present, blacks have served in every major conflict of our country and have risen to the highest ranks and positions of responsibility in all branches of the service?” he asked.
It is a legacy of which all Americans can be proud. Spencer served 20 years, seven months and 16 days in the United States Army and during that time saw four continents, 17 countries and 41 states, he said.
Before closing the program and showing the crowd an example of a JROTC uniform inspection, Spencer gave the students, KISD employees and community members a three-part formula that can be used to achieve success in school, career and life. The three aspects of the formula are discipline, good character and expectations.
“The definition I learned for discipline in the Army is doing what is right when no one is looking. Don’t wait on your parents and your teachers to tell you to do things that you know already need to be done,” he said. This means doing what is right in the community, at home, at friends’ homes, when being supervised and not. “Be disciplined and control you in every situation.”
The second variable, he said, is good character – the one thing no one can take away.
“People can take all of your money. They can take your house, your family. They can take even your life, but there’s one thing all of you have that no one can take; you have to give it away. You have to give your integrity away,” he said, noting that only happens when a person lies, cheats or steals. “No one forces you to do that, so you have to live by a code of high morals. Your last name means something special to a lot of people. You have to respect it. Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family or your school.
The third part of the formula is a person’s expectations.
“You have to start every day with the expectation that you’re going to do something great. I don’t care what your situation is. Most importantly, you be accountable to yourself for meeting your expectations. Be responsible to yourself for yourself,” Spencer said. “Start the day with the expectation that you’re going to have a good attitude. Set an expectation that you’re going to work hard in class every day, but most importantly, set the expectation that you’re going to be a better person today than you were yesterday.”
He emphasized for the students this is just one formula for success, but their work must begin while in school.
“You guys are just like an artist. You’re young, you have a clean canvas to paint on; begin painting your masterpiece for success in your life today here at Kilgore Middle School,” he said.