Being a Black Man In The Military
When I joined the Army in March 2007, I didn’t join because I had hopes of serving this country that I
loved. I joined because I was approached with a opportunity for a Black man that grew up in a small
country town in Georgia who once had hopes of playing college football and fell short to soon realize that
there was a bigger world after high school. One of the biggest memories I have of day one joining the
Army was the promise that the Army would pay off my college tuition loans that I had racked up
because nobody told me different when I applied for college. I remember signing the papers and
thinking to myself ‘The things I could do with a $75,000 bonus’ that I would receive and the ability to go to college. How soon those things quickly changed once I was sworn in.
Who would have thought that joining the military I would have to deal with racism and how the
Army would treat it? During basic training, I remember an incident where I encountered a white male
that called me outside of my name and I remember how much it took from me not to react and attack the
other individual knowing the repercussions that would follow and jeopardize my career and money. So
instead I had to work harder than others in my platoon so that I could become the platoon sergeant for
my company and when I did I made sure to put that individual on every detail that I could. That incident
showed me how much this country to this day could care less about me as an individual.
As I moved on within my Army career, I soon realized that the Army dream wasn’t the same dream that I
had for myself. I remember my only deployment where I had to watch my wife give birth to my first
born daughter and soon 2 months later leave for a deployment. What made it even worse to me was
that it was MLK Jr Day observation when my unit was called back in during a normal 4 day weekend off
and we had to say goodbye to our families. It was the little things that made me begin to realize just
how bad my time was in the Army.
As I began to understand how to navigate in the Army and look at how things were, I soon learned that this system that was promising to provide a way for me to be so successful was in fact showing me how
much the Black man was under-appreciated in uniform. I worked as a Information Technology Specialist
in the Army and was assigned to combat arms (rapidly deploy; engage enemy target directly) units that
when you look at the leadership there was always a Black male 1 st Sergeant (leader of all the soldiers)
but then he had to report to an white male officer (made all the decisions and controls the company). I
learned in the Army of those officers who went to military schools and how they formed their own groups
and that’s how the white males got promoted. Meanwhile the Black males had to work in the motor
pools to fix trunks, stay late to ensure the soldiers barracks was cleaned, and sacrifice their own
personal time to ensure everyone else was taken care of.
While serving 12 years in the Army, I have missed every one of my children’s birthday other than the day
they were born, I missed out on anniversaries with my wife, my wife’s birthday, my own birthday, and
other important dates that helped bring families together. In a sense the Army, wanted me to believe
that it was my family and that it would provide for me which was also the biggest joke. In the Army,
where everyday folks think service members made a lot of money was completely the opposite. Soldiers
aren’t paid based on their job role or function but their rank and for enlisted members that meant
making less than $40,000/year until you was able to make the rank of sergeant. But even then at
sergeant that only increased your pay by maybe $6-8k depending on how long you have been in. But for
the white male officers that went off to college and joined the Army their pay was substantial greater. In
comparison, the typical black male would stay in the Army till they made the rank of E7 (Sergeant First
Class) and that would give them $63K per year, but most people don’t make that rank until you have served for almost 15-20 years. Meanwhile an officer at the rank of Lieutant Colonel who spends 20 years
in service will make $114K per year. And most of those officer roles were filled by white males.
So if you ask me if I would do it again and join the Army knowing what I know today just to serve a
country that chose to put my life ahead of the promises of free college tuition (that I wasn’t able to
finish till after I medically retired), financial benefit (which I earned on my own after the Army) and a
name for myself (which I already had)? My answer is no. The Army is one of the biggest gangs in the
world that will push you to fit in and if you don’t, they find ways to remove you from the gang and it
impacts your life following from jobs, mental health, physical health, and sense of belonging. From PTSD
to physical issues that I had to suffer for a country to only return home from war and worry about if I’m
going to be pulled over in Texas by a cop that feels threatened by me. In all honesty there are days
where as a service member I felt safer deployed then I do in my own country because there I knew what
the right and left limits were and everyone was accountable for their actions.
But now I’m a Army Veteran that sacrificed 12 years of my life for a country that probably don’t even
know who I am or what I have done for it. But I walk around every day looking at the empty promises
the Army gives to soldiers now a days and every chance I get I tell them there are better ways outside of
the uniform. I’m always pushing to help the next person to escape the pain and suffering because there
is a better way. The only benefit that the Army gave me is that I was able to live to receive the resources
that they have set aside for veterans to help gain control of their normal lives again.