CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii --
Dozens of Marines, Sailors and civilian Marines with U. S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and U. S. Pacific Command attended MarForPac’s Black History Month observance here Feb. 25.
The event was a celebration of American progress, according to Master Sgt. Gloria Mason, MarForPac’s equal opportunity advisor.
“A lot of people think Black History Month is just about African-Americans, but it’s not,” Mason said. “It’s about American history and how far we’ve come as a nation.”
This year’s event featured a celebrity among Marines. Retired Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael, the 14th, and first black, sergeant major of the Marine Corps, served as the guest speaker for the observance.
“He’s not our speaker because he was the first black sergeant major of the Marine Corps,” Mason said. “He’s a perfect example of how far we have come, because his contributions are far greater than that.”
During the event, McMichael shared his experiences as a young infantryman stationed at Pearl Harbor where he became the closest of friends with a white Marine.
According to McMichael, the two of them became inseparable and spent a large portion of their free time studying Marine Corps history and regulations. The command took notice and the duo was placed on a meritorious promotion board against each other. McMichael lost, but believed the best Marine prevailed.
Despite being mocked by black Marines who believed he lost because he was black, McMichael recognized the ignorance of his peers and dedicated himself to judging others not by the color of their skin but their character and actions.
“I was so excited about my best friend being promoted to corporal and they wanted to distract me with accusations of injustice,” McMichael said. “People wanted to know why I was hanging out with this guy. (He was) the best Marine I knew and my best friend.”
Through his experiences as a younger Marine, McMichael rose through the ranks to the highest position an enlisted leader can attain in the Marine Corps as the 14th sergeant major of the Marine Corps. He then made history again in 2003 when he became the first senior noncommissioned officer to Allied Command Operations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Through his accomplishments, McMichael is an example of how far America has come as a nation and military force that values tolerance and character above all else.
“I would have never been born if it wasn’t for the progress made in this country and I wouldn’t be a Marine if it wasn’t for the accomplishments of black service members who came before me,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremiah J. Harper, a videographer with MarForPac and the son of black and white Marines. “That’s why we celebrate Black History Month. To celebrate the accomplishments of leaders in the community who worked to make the world we live in today.”
Before concluding and departing the event, McMichael shared a few words of wisdom with the ethnically-mixed audience.
“If you don’t know what got you where you are, you’re not stable and there is no foundation there,” McMichael said. “When we study our history, we eliminate fear and ensure we never have to go through the injustices of the past again.”