Breaking barriers in the military through determination to achieve the extraordinary
By Robert L. Thomas Jr
As I sat contemplating what my February column was going to be about, a lot of different things ran across my mind. There are a number of holidays this month, and the entire month is dedicated to Black history.
I initially was going to write this month’s column about Valentine’s Day and how caregivers sacrifice time to care for their loved ones. Even if they’re not a spouse, caregivers love the individual they care for on a daily basis by ensuring the person receives proper care and attention.
I also thought about writing about the accomplishments African-American men and women have made in the armed forces. Although this could be a long and intensive list, I would like to highlight a few specific men and women.
Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., was the first African-American Air Force general and also the first African-American four-star general in any branch of the armed services.
Army Spc. Fred Moore was the first African-American to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Nadja West was the first African-American female surgeon general of the Army, and she also became the first Black female lieutenant general and the highest-ranking woman to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Retired Lt. Col. Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell made her childhood dream a reality by becoming the first African-American female fighter pilot in the Air Force.
These individuals’ accomplishments were made during different periods in history, but they all shared something similar — the drive and determination to achieve something extraordinary.
I could’ve continued to highlight numerous other individuals who are still or were part of our nation’s military, but I wanted to shift gears and talk briefly about another holiday within this month: Presidents’ Day.
Presidents’ Day was originally established to honor the birthday of our first U.S. president, George Washington.
Interestingly enough, even in being the nation’s first president, Washington was not the first to live in the White House. John Adams moved into the White House Nov. 1, 1800, with only a few months left in his term.
The president’s quarters weren’t officially called the White House until the 20th century, when then-President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order giving it the name the White House. We cannot end this list without mentioning our 44th president, Barack Obama, the first African-American to hold the office.
In thinking about our nation’s history, it reminds me of our Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) leaders. PVA may have a much more extensive list, but I wanted to mention a couple of individuals who come to mind.
Gilford Moss was our first national president, who was a member with multiple sclerosis. Anita Bloom was PVA’s first female member for whom we now have a committee named after to honor and serve our women members. Gene Crayton was PVA’s first African-American president, who served from 2009 to 2010. He’s still a valuable adviser today.
The first issue of Paraplegia News (now called PN) was published in July 1946, and more than 75 years later, it continues to highlight accomplishments in the field of spinal-cord injury and innovative technology that assists the men and women living with spinal-cord injury and disease.
PVA has 77 years of history that I’m not able to revisit in its entirety. However, if you’re intrigued by any of the subjects mentioned and would like more information, visit any of the following websites: pva.org, defense.gov, rd.com/list/surprising-presidential-firsts or www.army.mil/blackamericans.