By Vincent Jones Jr.
As we bring the Memorial Day holiday to a close, it is important to continue reflecting on the strides that African American men and women have made in the Military. African American presence in the military dates to the colonial times. African Americans have participated in every war fought since the Revolutionary War to the most recent conflicts in Iraq. It is inspiring to know that African Americans like Drill Sergeant Leader Britney Williams have achieved success because of the trailblazers who came before them. Historically, not many women tend to join the military. In 1973, African American women comprised only two percent of all the military branches; today that number has increased to nearly 18 percent. Although the increase in the number of women serving in the military is moving in the right direction, African Americans still receive little recognition for their respective advancements in the Military.
Sergeant Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson is documented as the first African American to become a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps. In 1943 Johnson was trained to become one the first African American Drill instructors and two years prior he was on the USS Wyoming during the Pearl Harbor bombing as a member of the U.S Navy.
While serving in predominantly white units, Johnson emphatically stated that he “didn’t encounter any difficulty. I accepted everyone for what he was and apparently, they accepted me for what I was”.
Teresa King is the first African American Woman to earn the title of Drill Sergeant across the entire Military. Upon enlisting into the U.S Army in 1980, King held many titles during her 33 years of service. King served as the administrative assistant to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army at the Pentagon in 1987. In 1996, King would go on to serve as the First Sergeant for the 19th Adjutant General Company at Camp Casey, South Korea. Later, King would become the first female First Sergeant for Headquarters at Headquarters Company XVIII Airborne Corps, which is the largest company on Fort Bragg.
To cap an amazing career, in 2009 Teresa King was appointed as Commandant of the Drill Sergeant School, the first female in history to do so. After retiring in 2013, King has since been inducted into the Drill Sergeant Hall of Fame in 2017.
Locally, current Drill Sergeant Leader Britney Williams, a Dillard High School graduate who is stationed in South Carolina, has made strides of her own and is aware of her impact on other young women in south Florida and around the World. Williams was very enthused to elaborate on her influence on the youth and what it takes to achieve your goals.
“I have learned a lot from this job, especially being in a male dominant profession. It allows them to see someone as a role model. You don’t see too many people that want to do what I do so for the women that do want to do it there are women that have given them platform to do it. It gives them the opportunity to see somebody else doing it so that they can do it too. You can’t give up, when someone tells you, you can’t do it that has to be your motivation to prove them wrong. Learning never stops and we must continue to educate ourselves because it is the only way we will become better”.
African Americans are making positive waves in every aspect of today’s ever-changing world. It is imperative that the community comes together to continue to push for success across all fields of work while encouraging others that their dreams are not too far-fetched.