This Veterans Day 2021, in honor of and thanks for the service of so many Black Veterans, former service-members share their thoughts and perspectives on their time in the military and the aftermath.
My grandmother was a patriot and loved her soldiers.
My Dad’s mom died at 99 after living with Alzheimer’s for more than a decade.
In March 2016, I wore my Army uniform at my grandmother’s funeral in Gulfport, Miss. My first cousin wore his uniform, too. Nobody needed to tell us to wear our uniforms; we automatically knew our heaven-bound Grandma would delight in seeing us in dress blues all blinged out.
She was proud of us.
I distinctly remember a semi-lucid conversation with her during the mid-aughts. She repeatedly said, “I’m so proud of you boy. Congratulations on your promotion. How’s Kentucky?” She was beaming with pride and expressed her joy with bear hugs and heavy-handed pats on the back.
This dementia-induced-love-loop lasted for about 10 minutes. I’ll never forget it.
Grandma’s elderly mind was mixing the details of my Army career with my aforementioned first cousin, but I didn’t correct her—no need to interrupt her glee.
Like many of The Root’s readers, members of my Dad and Mom’s families have served in the U.S. military since World War I.
I serve America to honor my ancestors and leave a legacy for future troops.
Imagine the living room of a Black family’s home in the post-civil rights era: Surely, you’d find portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Jr., and, perhaps, Jesus. Keep searching and somewhere you’ll likely find a photo of some wide-eyed, clinch-jawed military trainee on an end table, refrigerator, cork board, or inside a yellowing photo album. Look; you’ll find it.
There were a few military photos on my Grandma’s walls. She valued everything the military is about.
Grandma valued education. (You can listen to her here.)
My grandmother was an advocate for education. She turned a $50 scholarship into degrees at Alcorn A&M College and Tuskegee Institute. She went on to teach Home Economics on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast for 44 years. There are legendary stories of her snatching the hems of girls whose skirts were too short. Grandma didn’t play. Times were different then.
Fun fact: The Army awards more scholarship money than any entity in America. $485 million annually. And the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provides troops and/or their families 100 percent tuition for college or career certifications.
Grandma valued homeownership and cooperative economics.
Another fun fact: The VA home loan program enables veterans to buy homes with no money down. The communities where Black families have nearly closed the racial wealth gap are all near military bases Prince William County, Va.; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Killeen, Texas. The retirement pension and VA benefits are paid for life. Plenty of SBA loans and grants for Veterans and their spouses too. Cha-ching!
Grandma valued fairness and civil rights.
The military is not a utopia, nor does it claim to be. But, significant cultural and policy changes have been implemented in the past two years to improve the military’s effectiveness by ensuring all troops have a sense of inclusion and belonging.
Women can now wear their hair in healthier and more expressive styles. Sleeve tattoos are permissible. Mentorship groups are popping up everywhere—including here, here, and here. Mothers and fathers get more paid time off to bond with newborns. Extremism of any sort is not tolerated. All military jobs are open to men and women. Uniforms were redesigned to account for different body types. In short, the military has more changes than a H.E.R., David Bowie, and Tupac mashup.
Grandma valued that someone-get-me-a-switch discipline.
The military’s first focus is instilling values and teamwork. But, when necessary, we will counsel and correct bad behavior.
Grandma valued health…sorta, kinda…aside from all the southern delicacies fried in her cast iron skillet.
It’s No-Shave November. The military is all about prevention and screening. Everything gets checked. Everything. And, for free. Most of my military buddies haven’t paid any significant medical bills during their two decade careers. No GoFundMe needed.
Born in 1917, orphaned, Grandma’s dreams outlived her life.
I wear my uniform for her. I wear my uniform for you. You deserve it.
This Veterans Day, I ask you to ask your family members about their military service. Take some time to watch Glory, A Soldier’s Story, or Red Tails. From Crispus Attucks to modern soldiers, Blacks have fought for freedom for all Americans—from Boston Harbor to Baghdad, Cold Harbor to Kabul.
Gen. Colin Powell was memorialized last weekend. His life inspired many, including me. But there are more people you should know.
Hit Google and learn about: Gen. CQ Brown, U.S. Air Force; 2nd Lt. Emily Perez, U.S. Army; Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, U.S. Army; Capt. Zeita Merchant, U.S. Coast Guard; Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, U.S. Army; Admiral Michelle Howard, U.S. Navy; and Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston.
In case you’re wondering: Grandpa valued everything Grandma did; however, he passed on when I was eight.
Myles B. Caggins III is a colonel in the U.S. Army assigned as a Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in NYC. He is the son of a Vietnam veteran. He attended public K-12 schools and then the Army funded his education at Hampton University, Georgetown University, and Harvard Kennedy School; between three combat tours in Iraq. He enjoys Shirley Temples and plain bacon cheeseburgers with bbq sauce. He tweets at: @mylescaggins