A bright, sunny lake day. Hamburgers and Hot-Dogs. Family time. American Flags. Fallen soldiers. Yellow ribbons tied to trees. And of course the good ole’ USA. These are all things that come to mind when we think about Memorial Day. But if we go in depth, the roots run deep…really deep.
Of course the purpose of this day is to honor and remember the fallen military and their families, but who were these brave souls? What did they look like? Well, the absolute beauty of it comes from them being from ALL different backgrounds.
However…it hasn’t always been this way. There is a long, ugly history that comes with the progression of the military. A lot of protesting, proposed bills, arguments, ignorance, blood, sweat, and tears that went into allowing anyone besides white males access into the military to have the equal right to risk or even give their lives for their country.
It first dates back to 1775-when the British Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, said that he would grant black enslaved people their freedom, if they could escape from their masters, to fight for “His Majesty’s Troops.” Nonetheless, a stipulation that came along with this was that the black soldiers couldn’t fight alongside white soldiers.
If you truly sit back and ponder on the logic of this-how disgusting it is to have lived in a world that not only enslaved other persons-but then offered them freedom in exchange for risking/giving their lives in war for the very country that condoned their enslavement to begin with. Additionally, not allowing them to fight alongside fellow soldiers, based on skin color.
In 1777, George Washington realized that there were not enough white men to fill the ranks-so he then allowed all Black Men to fight.
Washington “allowed” them to fight-only because there were not enough white men. This shows that back then the importance of someone’s skin color outweighed the importance of someone voluntarily giving themselves for their country.
Although women were not always permitted to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces, many still found ways to serve their nation. During the Revolutionary War, women served the U.S. Army in traditional roles as nurses, seamstresses and cooks for troops in camp.
It wasn’t until 1866, when the first woman served in the military. In the 1800’s, women were not allowed to serve-but one particular female did it anyway. Cathay Williams- who used the male name “William Cathay” to enlist for three whole years starting in 1866. She passed a general physical examination (due to not examining her whole body) and then joined the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment.
Thankfully-the current military representation is much more accepting and makes it a point to include everyone. The United States Department of Defense has actually implemented several steps to eliminate bias, and to ensure that the military as a whole reflects our nation's diversity and encourages an environment in which every member is treated with dignity and respect, equally.
Some of the recent changes that have been made to promote this environment include: “removing photographs and references to race, ethnicity and gender from personnel files in promotion and selection processes, enacting stronger protections against harassment and discrimination (including prohibiting discrimination because of pregnancy), training to detect and respond appropriately to bias – both conscious and unconscious, reviewing hairstyle and grooming policies for racial bias, and training for commanders on guiding discussions on discrimination,prejudice and bias.
The Department of Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion has also recommended further steps to improve racial and ethnic diversity and broaden equal opportunity in the military. These recommendations include: updating recruiting content annually to reflect the nation’s racial and ethnic makeup, diversifying senior-level positions so they reflect the nation’s racial and ethnic makeup, identifying and removing barriers to diversity in aptitude tests, identifying and removing barriers to senior leadership for diverse candidates, disclosing demographic information about promotion selection rates, creating a diversity and inclusion mobile app and website, [and] prohibiting involvement with extremist or hate group activity.”
(Military One Source, 2022)
The DOD has established the Independent Defense Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Armed Services, to continue with consistent progress. This committee will continue the work of examining any and all issues that will improve equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion in the military.
Lizabeth Dragonrite says, “The strength of our U.S. military lies in its diversity, with various backgrounds come different ideas and concepts that can be added to the benefit of our military. This is what makes us strong, our diversity has made us a force that can withstand an ever-changing environment.”
Diverse and inclusive ranks are crucial to morale, force cohesion and readiness. Your service member plays an essential role in maintaining an environment that upholds and respects individual differences.
The truth is, the military is a comradeship-and should be honored as such. John Dickinson says, “Then join hand in hand brave Americans! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.” “By dividing we fall…” is such a powerful line in that quote-WE ARE NOTHING WITHOUT EACH OTHER! Yes, the military serves to protect and ensure that everyone has their basic human rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But it’s not just the military that should defend these. As brothers and sisters, we should all help preserve these rights as well.