Our only colors are red, white and blue

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Clifton Cole
  • 28th Bomb Wing command chief
This month we honor an American who made a large impact on American history. I would like to take a few moments to share with you the first of what I hope are many commentaries from me to Team Ellsworth - especially our enlisted Airmen.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is much more than just his impact on the Civil Rights movement. While that's very important, it's much more critical to remember that Dr. King's dream was equality for all people, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin. He dared to dream of an America where men and women of all backgrounds were judged by their own merits. To me, this is a historical and unyielding legacy.

While the American Civil Rights movement is an important cornerstone of our nation's history; many of you may not realize the impact the American military has had on the equality movement. As members of the armed forces, we have a direct legacy to some great and courageous Americans who served our nation. The first actually fought in the War for American Independence.

Dr. Robert A. Selig's account of American soldiers during the Revolutionary War reminds us well before the 1960s Civil Rights movement, black soldiers served in the American Revolution. By the winter of 1778, black soldiers were marching alongside their white counterparts during the harsh winter at Valley Forge under the Prussian drillmaster Baron von Steuben, Dr. Selig wrote in one of his essays. In the spring of 1779, 755 black men were listed in the rolls of the Continental Army, and in October 1780, the first all-black unit, the 4th Connecticut, was formed. Soon after, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment had America's first and only, at the time, black commissioned officer.

These brave soldiers who challenged the norms of the 18th century had something in common with you and me. They were Americans who wore the uniform of our armed services.

Another American who blazed a trail before Dr. King's famous march on Washington, D.C. was an Airman, Eugene Bullard. Corporal Bullard left America for Europe in the early 1900s to escape racial prejudice. He joined the French military in 1914, was wounded in 1916 and eventually applied for and received pilot training in 1917. According to Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, Professional Development Guide, his moniker was "The Black Swallow of Death." He shot down two enemy aircraft. Once again, we have something in common with this Airman who shattered stereotypes. He was an American and, for the enlisted corps, it's important to note he was an enlisted Airman just like some of us serving our country today.

Eventually, in 1948, President Harry Truman via Executive Order 9981 desegregated our armed forces. I'm especially proud as an Airman, and you should be too, our Air Force beat the politicians to the punch by desegregating our branch of service a few months prior. Our Air Force Chief of Staff at the time, General Hoyt Vandenberg, said his decision was based on competency, there was no room for inefficient resources in a new branch of service to gel itself into a first-rate fighting machine. He said, "Air power alone does not guarantee America's security, but I believe it best exploits the Nation's greatest asset - our technical skill."

I believe the technical skill so important to our Air Force's success and the hallmark of the most technically competent enlisted force in the world is forged by the blood of our fallen brethren who came before us defending three important colors, - red, white and blue. They are the only colors I see when I look upon my fellow Airmen.

I invite you to take a few minutes during the upcoming holiday to reflect not only on Dr. King's contribution to civil rights, but the contribution of all our service members who challenged the barriers laid before them. Their courage and sacrifice should not go unnoticed.

Thank you for all you do for your fellow Airmen, your Air Force and our great country.