Story and photos by Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division PAO
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – "Gas! Gas! Gas!" But for the contribution of one black American inventor last century, that familiar call might not echo through Army bases as Soldiers train with gas masks against chemical weapons attack.
Similarly, the blood bank system, responsible for saving countless lives on the battlefield since World War II, was the work of an African American, Frederick McKinley Jones.
On Feb. 21, Soldiers on Forward Operating Base Kalsu came together to celebrate these and the other significant contributions made by African Americans during a Black History Month program.
Guest speaker Lt. Col. Kevin R. Stevenson, behavioral health officer, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, walked the audience through the wide-ranging contributions African Americans have made to American society. During a slide show presentation, Stevenson also illustrated the direct impact some of these contributions have had on today's Army.
Clean, dry laundry in 24 hours. A dust pan used to get dirt off the floor. A mop used to remove the muck in the office hallway. All of these items – well known, but taken for granted among the privates who use them most - would not have been possible if not for the contributions of black Americans in the past.
Like the "Safety Hood and Smoke Protector" gas mask invented by Garrett A. Morgan in 1912, the clothes dryer (George T. Sampson), the dustpan (Lloyd P. Ray), and the mechanically-replaceable clamp mop (Thomas W. Stewart) are fixtures in the modern Army's inventory.
But while much of the focus of the presentation was on past accomplishments, Stevenson, a Napoleonville, La., native, stressed that black Americans continue to make vital contributions to the country and military.
The event highlighted the struggles blacks had to overcome in the past, as well as how those struggles created strong bonds in the community.
"History is important to us," said Capt. Christee Cuttino, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. personnel office.
"It shows how far we've come," she said.
Although the focus was on black Americans, Cuttino, of New Britain, Conn., said it is important for all people to come out and support events such as this and other ethnic vigils celebrated by the Army.
"Regardless of race, creed, color or background, we have all experienced struggles in life," Cuttino said.
A major theme throughout the presentation was explaining how overcoming past struggles could help those experiencing hardships today.
One way to help overcome and prosper is by finding positive role models from both past and present, Stevenson said. He credited much of his accomplishments in life to the guidance of his family, who taught him he could do anything he put his mind to. His mother nurtured him, his younger brother encouraged him in sports, and his godparents, who were both teachers, showed him the importance of education.
Stevenson said people should look for role models who have integrity and live a life that exemplifies that integrity.
"A person's character will take them further than anything else," he said.
Other individuals presented their thoughts and praise for the contributions of black Americans. Contributions came in the form of words, songs, traditional dances, poetry and skits.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, all participants were honored with a certificate of appreciation from Col. Thomas James, commander, 4th BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. for sharing their experiences.
This work, African American heritage celebrated at Kalsu, by SGT Kevin Stabinsky, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.