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Black History Month: The past shaping the future

Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes, first African American to be Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. Barnes was selected to hold the top Air Force enlisted position Oct. 1, 1973, and finished him time in the position July 31, 1977. (Courtesy photo)

Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes, first African American to be Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. Barnes was selected to hold the top Air Force enlisted position Oct. 1, 1973, and finished him time in the position July 31, 1977. (Courtesy photo)

Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Royster, 22nd Air Refueling Wing command chief, poses for a photo May 5, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Royster is the first female African American Airman to serve as the command chief of the 22nd ARW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michaela Slanchik)

Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Royster, 22nd Air Refueling Wing command chief, poses for a photo May 5, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Royster is the first female African American Airman to serve as the command chief of the 22nd ARW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michaela Slanchik)

Chief Master Sgt. Takesha Williams, 931st Air Refueling Wing command chief, poses for a photo Jan. 24, 2019, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Williams is the first female African American Airman to serve as the command chief of the 931st ARW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samantha Mathison)

Chief Master Sgt. Takesha Williams, 931st Air Refueling Wing command chief, poses for a photo Jan. 24, 2019, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Williams is the first female African American Airman to serve as the command chief of the 931st ARW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samantha Mathison)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – Every February, the Department of Defense takes time to celebrate the history and contributions that African Americans have made to the Air Force and the United States. 

 

Also known as Black History Month, February is an important time for all McConnell Airmen to reflect on how African Americans throughout U.S. history have paved the way for today’s Air Force.

 

“Black History Month causes me to remember all of the milestones of those that came before me,” said Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Royster, 22nd Air Refueling Wing command chief. “I recognize that I am sitting in the shade of great ones who planted the trees that I now enjoy the shade of.”

 

Royster and Chief Master Sgt. Takesha Williams, 931st ARW command chief, are the first female African Americans to hold the title of 22nd and 931st ARW Command Chiefs, respectively.

 

“My service experience is shaped by those whose shoulders I have stood on and I am honored to follow those trailblazers, it opened doors and modeled possibilities,” said Williams. “Like other special observance months, it is a time to highlight the importance of the contributions and sacrifices of those who may otherwise go unnoticed.”

 

Diversity and inclusion are not just aspirations of the Air Force, but goals of all branches of the U.S. military. These values have allowed historical individuals such as Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes, the first African American senior enlisted advisor in any of the armed forces, to create a gateway for future Airmen.

 

Airmen such as Barnes led the way to creating a new environment for today’s Air Force, fostering an open dialogue on topics like diversity.

 

“Having open discussions with leaders about diversity and inclusion was a big deal when I was coming up,” said Royster. “Being able to sit down and have conversations with people from different places with different thoughts is a huge win. It affords us the opportunity to change the hearts and minds of our Airmen.”  

 

The celebrations of Black History Month continues to show the importance of a constantly changing culture in the Air Force and society due to the dedication of past African American leaders.

 

“It’s important to continue to highlight the distinguished history of service that African Americans have had in our military and continue to pay tribute to the contributions that they made protecting our nation and enriching our culture,” said Royster.