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African-American History Month is a time for all Americans to reflect on the freedoms that define our nation. African-American military service has been closely connected to the long, ongoing struggle for equality. As a result, we should honor the memory of Soldiers who endured hardships due to the color of their skin.
Throughout our Armys history, African-American and minority Soldiers remained determined, despite hardship and insult, to serve their nation knowing that the American experiment in democracy and freedom based in our belief in unalienable rights especially that all men are created equal was still a work in progress.
Despite many disappointments across two centuries, the story we remember today is positive as the American military transformed slowly into an institution where minorities could fully belong and enjoy equal treatment.
While there has been tremendous progress toward equality across the past 150 years, we must not be satisfied or complacent, especially in our military. That is because the stakes are high in combat and the strength of our military forces, and indeed our nation, is our cohesion and teamwork. Nothing is more destructive to teams than prejudice. Our squads, platoons and companies take on the quality of a family as they fight together, endure hardships together, mourn together and celebrate victories together. As retired Col. Ralph Puckett remarked of an integrated Ranger unit in 1950, I never thought of any of them as hyphenated Americans, and they never thought of themselves that way. They were Americans, and all that the word means. Our military forces are teams of teams in which men and women are willing to give everything, including their lives, for one another. Military men and women are bound together by a common sense of duty, loyalty to our Constitution, trust in each other, and respect for each other and for their fellow man.
Our task today is to make sure that all Soldiers continue to be treated equally, and to ensure that prejudice and unequal treatment due to a Soldiers race, color or creed are never tolerated in our ranks. We should all remember the sacrifices and contributions that African-Americans have made for our great country and honor the contributions of those who fought for equal rights by dedicating ourselves to excellence in our missions. And we must recommit ourselves to preserving and furthering the equality inherited from those who have gone before us. One Force, One Fight!
Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster Commanding general