Black Americans have fought in every war since the founding of our country and have a proud tradition of military service. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment who fought valiantly in the Civil War; to the original Buffalo Soldiers, members of the 10th Cavalry Squadron, on the western border.
Among us are the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I and the black female soldiers of the Central Postal Battalion of the “6-triple 8” Directory, who boosted the morale of the troops during World War II.
And of course, we continue to recognize the legendary Tuskegee Airman of the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group and the 477th Bombardment Group. We honor the memory of the Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, who was the youngest and the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And we look to the future with the general Lloyd Austin, who is now the first African-American to serve as US Secretary of Defense.
Millions of African Americans, from soldiers to generals, have proudly served our nation in uniform. Today there are over 2.5 million black veterans and it is not over yet. But too many of them face challenges, driven by historical inequalities and obstacles that have existed in our country since our founding.
Black and Brown servicemen face disparities in promotion, opportunity and are still treated unfairly by our military justice system. Black veterans are targeted and exploited by predatory lenders, face higher unemployment rates than other veterans, and are more likely to require a higher standard of care for combat injuries when they’re going home.
To address these disparities, we must be intentional.
In Congress, I helped push through ambitious reforms to make our ranks more inclusive and diverse. I have worked to build strong partnerships between the Department of Defense and the HBCUs. I continue to lead the charge to ensure equal justice in our military justice system. I fought not only to recognize the shortcomings of our military history, but to honor unsung black military heroes throughout. And continue the work to ensure that white supremacy, racism, extremism and anti-Semitism have no place in our military.
We must break down barriers for the military and meet black veterans where they are, to give them the support they need for their many years of honorable service to our nation.
Being part of the best fighting force in the world is one of the greatest honors in American life. Our men and women in uniform and the ever-growing community of veterans have always been at the center of our military’s mission. Those who served in WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other theaters are part of a larger history that spans over 200 years. .
As every soldier takes off the uniform, our sense of duty and our love for the country remain with us in civilian life. Veterans become teachers, health workers, engineers, activists, religious and community leaders. They recognize that service to our country does not end on the battlefield, but continues in the work we do at home.
Our country makes a sacred promise to our veterans. For their sacrifices, we are committed to taking care of them and their families when they return home. I firmly believe that it is not enough to simply thank veterans for their service, but rather to show our thanks in action.
Through access to higher education programs that help newly returnee ex-combatants acquire the skills and knowledge they will need for the next stage of their careers. With employment and career opportunities that will help them raise a family and enjoy all that our country has to offer. Through safe, affordable and quality housing. And thanks to the best health care our country has to offer, to heal the wounds of war and ensure their continued well-being in the years following the removal of the uniform.
This promise must always be at the forefront of our efforts to serve those who have sacrificed so much to defend our nation, our values and our way of life. Unfortunately, we know that promise was not always kept. We still have some work ahead of us to ensure that every Veteran is treated fairly and equitably and has access to the same benefits and opportunities as their comrades.
As we commemorate Veterans Day, let us pledge to act. Patriotism, love for the country, and a willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good are not just the values of the veterans community – they are American values.
When we reflect on the sacrifices of our veterans and the work that lies ahead, we can find strength and inspiration in their stories and build a stronger, more just country centered on our shared values as a nation.
Representative Anthony Brown, D-Md., Is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and co-chair of the NDP Coalition National Security Task Force. He previously served in the United States Army for approximately 30 years before retiring as a colonel.
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