By Spc. Brian Johnson
BAGHDAD — During the struggle for equality in the 1960s, one man rose to become the leader and face of the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of America's moral architects, was cut down in his prime by an assassin's bullet in 1968.
In commemoration of his birthday and to celebrate his legacy, Soldiers from U.S. Division-Center around Victory Base Complex gathered Jan. 18 for a birthday observance.
Organizers said this year's theme, "A day on, not a day off," was designed to remind us that King's lasting impact on America would not have been possible without his perseverance and enduring commitment to the communities he served.
"The theme encourages Americans to volunteer in their local communities, to do service projects, and to make the world a better place for those in need," said Lt. Col. Jane Lengel, Equal Opportunity advisor for 16th Engineer Brigade.
The observance, planned by the brigade Equal Opportunity team, emphasized King's vision of living in a nation guided by principals of compassion, tolerance and inclusion instead of hatred, elitism and segregation.
Command Sergeant Major Kevin Stuart, of Washington, D.C., a member of Task Force 1st Medical Brigade, presented a poem that he composed as a tribute to King during the observance.
"His dreams were so powerful and strong that they are still living today," Stuart said. "Dr. King believed that everybody can be great because anybody can serve."
Colonel Barrye L. Price, of Gary, Indiana, the J1 for U.S. Forces-Iraq, was the guest speaker at the event. Price studied the life and times of King as part of his doctoral studies at Texas A&M University.
"I would like to expose you to a giant who stood only 5-foot-6 and tipped the scales at 170 pounds," said Price.
Price described many of the events that helped shape King's life. He used photos from King's childhood through his early days as a minister to strengthen his points.
Price also presented lesser known facts about Dr. King. According to Price, King considered giving up and going home during the Montgomery bus boycott.
"Dr. King was initially a reluctant leader," said Price.
Col. Robert Phillips, Chief of Staff, 16th Engineer Brigade, of Chillicothe, Ohio, delivered the closing remarks.
"What Martin Luther King was about was making all better," Phillips said. "More needs to be done, but as you walk around this division, you can see where some of his dreams have come true."