SUFFOLK, Va. (February 27, 2018) NNS — Sailors and DoD civilians assigned to Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), Joint Staff – Hampton Roads (JS-HR), Joint Naval Network Warfare Command (NNWC), U.S. Fleet Cyber Command (FCC) South and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command gathered to observe National African-American Black History Month during a ceremony February 27.
Vice Adm. Matthew J. Kohler, commander, NAVIFOR, kicked off the event and thanked the guest speakers, Heritage High School Choir, multi-cultural committee and attendees for supporting the event.
“It is the strength of our nation that allows us to bring together all of our talent to stand up against our adversaries. Today we recognize our diversity by honoring African Americans’ contributions to our Navy and our nation by this year’s theme African Americans in Times of War: Collaborating, Building and Teaming,” said Kohler. “African Americans have been part of our nation since its earliest days, they have served and continue to serve in every war and every branch of the Armed Services since our nation began. We are a stronger Navy and nation for their talent and their service even if that service was often given in the face of diversity.”
Kohler introduced United States Army retired Brig. Gen. Arnold N. Gordon-Bray who completed over three decades of service.
Gordon Bray has extensive experience in commanding various levels of military forces from a platoon of 40 soldiers, to a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) in Iraq. Before Brigade Command, he commanded the 1st Battalion of the 508th Airborne Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, becoming the first African American commander of the then largest infantry battalion in the Army. He also commanded 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division – Falcons. His unit spearheaded the 2003 attack into Iraq, where he was the only African American Brigade Commander. He was featured in the book, “Boots on the Ground,” detailing the early days of the 82nd Airborne’s participation in the deployment.
“If you believe that our nation has always been great, stand, if you believe that our nation has the capacity to be the best, stand, if you believe that best days are before us, stand, if you believe we are the greatest fighting force that the world has ever seen because of our depth and our strength, stand, if you are still sitting then in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall easily’,” said Gordon-Bray.
During the ceremony, everyone also took a moment to remember United States Navy retired Master Chief Petty Officer Sherman Byrd, a Boatswain’s Mate; the first African American explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician. He was born in Carrollton, Mississippi, Sept. 7, 1930, the youngest of five children of Lloyd and Annie Lloyd Byrd and joined the Navy at age 17 in 1947 while it was still segregated.
Byrd graduated from the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEAOD) at Indian Head, Maryland in 1958. Six years later, he became an instructor. Byrd routinely worked with the United States Secret Service helping to protect four Presidents of the United Sates to include former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He was only 40 years old when he passed away from a heart attack following a physical training exercise April 9, 1971.
Navy retired Chief Petty Officer Mike Coulter, a Machinist's Mate, who was also an EOD technician, spearheaded efforts with the help of Byrd’s family members to recognize Byrd’s contributions in the Navy.
“There used to be a volleyball court named after Master Chief Byrd and I used to hear stories from master chiefs that worked for him when I was a young Sailor. The first thing that went through my head back then was that we can do better than this,” said Coulter. “We need to remember our history as EOD technicians and Master Chief Byrd was our history.”
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training and Evaluation Unit (EODTEU) 2 dedicated a plaque in honor of the former explosive ordnance disposal technician Master Chief Byrd at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story September 25, 2009.
Cynthia Byrd Conner spoke about her father and the impact his naval service during segregation meant to her.
“EOD techs are forged in unity, they are one, and if you take anything away from what I said today, I want you to remember this one thing for EOD techs; any of us/any bomb, anywhere,” said Conner.
Senior Executive Service Vice Director, Joint Staff J7, Monica Shephard, ended the ceremony by thanking everyone and providing closing remarks.
“We are a team. We must recognize, honor and revere every member of that team. Because, if we miss even one person, we are doomed,” concluded Shephard.
The celebration as a whole had a guest speaker, a special guest, multimedia presentation, video clip, static displays, music, potluck and a cake cutting ceremony.
“Today, I really enjoyed what the guest speakers had to share with us and it was very inspiring,” said Petty Officer First Class Michelle Smith.
Established in 1926 as a week-long observance of African American history and heritage, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the celebration in 1976 to include the entire month of February. This year, U.S. Navy commands were encouraged to celebrate and reflect on the theme, “African Americans in Times of War: Collaborating, Building and Teaming.”
For more information about NAVIFOR, visit the command's website at http://www.public.navy.mil/fltfor/navifor/Pages/Default2.aspx, our Navy News Web page at http://www.navy.mil/local/navifor or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USNavyInformationDominanceForces.