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In February, the nation joins together to celebrate African American History Month. It is a time to reflect on and celebrate the rich culture of African American history in the United States.

This year’s theme is “African Americans in Times of War.”  Many African American men and women across the nation, and from all walks of life, have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.  This year also commemorates the centennial of the end of the First World War in 1918. 

Over the past one hundred years, African Americans have contributed to the fight for freedom for the United States and those we support.  Despite enduring challenges and struggles, like racial injustice, we have made great strides over the years while serving in times of war to fight for freedom, peace, and respect.

Many contribute greatly to society but are not as well known, such as the women of the 6888th, also known as the “Six Triple Eight.”  These African American women from the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) of the U.S. Army were designated as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.  During World War II, this group of military women tackled the massive task of organizing and distributing a huge backlog of letters and packages in Birmingham, England.  Letters and packages were stacked to the ceiling and were not appropriately addressed for delivery to soldiers in the field. These women worked long hours in poor conditions. The warehouse was unheated and dimly lit, the windows blacked out to prevent light showing during nighttime air raids. Rats had contaminated the packages.  As men were at war, the Six Triple Eight women worked tirelessly around the clock to track soldiers and to deliver their mail to them.

Like the women of the Six Triple Eight, there are many courageous men and women who have served our country and are family members, neighbors, and coworkers.  They return home and work in our local communities, in public, and private sector jobs.  Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with two of my friends about their service:  Roderick Lawrence, Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Retired) and April Beldo, Fleet Master Chief (Retired).

Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence served in the U.S. Army including military tours in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom before retiring after 25 years of dedicated service to his country. He received several medals.  His highest medal was the Bronze Star, which he received for his exceptional performance for 18 months in Iraq overseeing soldiers and civilians during sensitive operations.  Our men and woman often make sacrifices while serving their country.  Lawrence continues his service as a public servant at the Selective Service System. 

Fleet Master Chief Beldo served in the U.S. Navy for more than 33 years.  Her tours of duties were the Persian Gulf War, War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq.  She received numerous awards including Meritorious Service Medals, Commendation Medals, and Achievement Medals.  Beldo was one of the first woman sailors aboard an aircraft carrier.  At one point in time, she was the only African American female in her Command.  After Beldo’s exceptional military career, she continues to be an example for future leaders as a Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) Instructor.

Here, at the Office of Personnel Management, our Veterans Employee Resource Group continues to highlight African American coworkers who serve and have served in the military.   

I am inspired by all those who put on the uniform and serve our country.  Both, the historical events and those who have touched me personally continue to inspire me even after 35 years of my joining the Armed Forces.

I encourage you to take some time to learn more about the heroic African American men and women who have dedicated their lives to serve. In addition, the National Museum of African American History and Culture holds events to commemorate the life, traditions, history, and culture of African Americans.

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