Black History Month 2018: African Americans in Times of War
The theme for this 2018’s Black History Month is “African Americans in Times of War,” and in honor of this, CAP presents an interview with CAP Director Curtis Bell and Assessment Specialist Jerome Lyons.
Mr. Bell was an active duty member of the Navy between the years of 1975 and 2000. He participated in Joint Naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea while serving on the USS Nassau (LHA-4) in modified operational location off the coast of Lebanon in 1984 after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings. In 1994, he supported Joint Strike Forces operations in Bosnia as a Communications Officer from Sicily, IT with tactical and strategic communications resources. In 1987 through 1990, Bell also was an Airborne Joint Special Operations communicator with the Joint Communications Unit (Ft. Bragg, NC and Washington, D.C. headquarters).
Mr. Lyons served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1996. He joined the Marines a few months after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing and was active service during the Gulf War, supporting the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion and HQ Marine Corps. Lyons has also been awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and Good Conduct Medal with 3 Stars.
When asked what drew each of them to the service, they replied that serving their country was a factor, but each had additional reasons of their own for enlisting.
“My plan was to join the military for a few years, have them pay for school, but it turned out to be more enjoyable than I thought,” said Lyons. He credits his choice of the Marines to a commercial he saw on television. Lyons said, “It said, ‘Can you measure up? Can you be one of the few, the proud, the Marines?’ I wanted to see if I could measure up.”
Bell chose to enlist in the Navy out of a desire to travel and see what experiences he could gain from visiting locations all across the world. After his brother, also in the Navy, wrote letters from distant countries, Bell was influenced to enlist and see what the world had to offer.
When asked how being African-American shaped his experience of military service, Bell replied, “Race is kind of a lens, it’s how you see things and how you react to different environments...and sometimes you would go into a room and be the only African-American there. But you’re there for a purpose. You’ve got a mission to do, serve the country, take care of the ship, take care of the Marine Corps, and do your job. You keep focused on what you’re there for and take the high ground.”
Lyons attributed some of his hard work and dedication to excellence to a drive to disprove any preconceived notions others may have had about him.
“It wasn’t that I was the only minority to be in the group, but I think seeing where I came from made me realize that I was going to have to do more than the standard…knowing that just passing wasn’t enough to get where you wanted to be or what you wanted to do. You had to do more than just become a marksman, you had to become an expert marksman.”
Both agreed that the nature of the military fosters a more diverse experience than the civilian world. In the civilian world, it’s more possible to avoid interaction with others outside your race or community. Even employees with diverse workplaces may go home from work and choose the types of people they spend their time with. However, in the military, many individuals from various differing backgrounds must learn to cooperate for the sake of their mission.
Additionally, both men agreed that their military service has impacted the type of work they do today, citing the leadership skills, teamwork capabilities, and dedication to their work that most people obtain during their time in the service. Lyons stated that the discipline and structure encouraged by the military has transferred to his job after leaving the service.
Above all, it appears that the diversity of the military is its strength, bringing people of different backgrounds and experiences together to accomplish a common goal.
“When you can look at something and bring some different or innovative ideas to it, that’s a huge win…if you’ve got different experiences, you can say, ‘Oh, have you thought about this?’ It allows you to adapt, but because of your experiences, you can bring some things to the table that others may or may not be able to,” Bell said.