By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 08, 2015) -- Prominent African-Americans from all walks of life have served as a bridge between the past and today, as well as a bridge to the future, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said here Feb. 6.
The Air Force served as the host of the 10th annual Stars and Stripes recognition dinner, an event that recognizes top-performing African-American military and civilian leaders in the armed forces.
The dinner is held concurrently with the Black Engineer of the Year Award, or BEYA, STEM conference, now in its 29th year. STEM is shorthand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
DRAWING FROM OPRAH WINFREY'S ROLE MODELS
Speaking before an audience of active and retired Service members, as well as members of the defense contracting community and college students, James drew on a quote from television personality Oprah Winfrey, who once said her success has come from the stories of history-making African-American women she calls "bridges."
Among those women are Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Madame C. J. Walker and Fannie Lou Hamer.
"Bridges tie us to the past, and they join us to the future," James said. "Take William Cathay, for instance. Mr. Cathay enlisted in the U.S. regular Army during the Civil War. But it turns out that Mr. Cathay was actually Ms. Cathay Williams. She was the first African-American female to enlist, and she dressed as a man in order to do so.
"She is a bridge for today's armed forces," the Air Force secretary continued. "And then there is Elizabeth Bessie Coleman, the first female African-American pilot -- really, the first African-American pilot, male or female, to hold an international pilot's license. Bessie was another bridge."
James said that for her, Dr. heila Widnall is a "bridge." Widnall was the secretary of the Air Force from August 1993 to October 1997, and is the first woman to have served as a military service secretary.
THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN
For those at the BEYA conference and attending the Stars and Stripes award dinner, James said, the Tuskegee Airmen are a bridge. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. military. They served as both fighter and bomber pilots during World War II.
"This conference, BEYA, is really a bridge for all of us. To me, bridges transcend race, color and creed," James said. "Our bridges speak to the innate courage, strength of conviction, and perseverance in the face of adversity."
As part of the Stars and Stripes event at the 2015 BEYA Conference, military leaders, both officer and civilian, participated in mentoring sessions with youth from in around the national capital area.
James said such interaction will for those youth serve as a bridge to their future. She asked those in the audience who had participated in the mentoring to continue to build the connections that link those who are successful with those who have the promise to be.
'AMERICA NEEDS YOU'
"Keep on making those connections, and keep on building those bridges. America needs you," James said. "And if you are still in school, America needs you to keep working hard. We need Americans in the future who are grounded in science, technology, engineering and math, to continue building those bridges.
"For those of us who are more senior -- America needs us too," she continued. "We need to be individuals who are part of organizations that continue to connect and to become bridges that lead others to follow that path to excellence."
SENIOR LEADERS RECOGNIZED
During the Stars and Stripes event, senior African-American leaders from each military service were recognized for outstanding performance. Those recognized include:
-- Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., director of operations, Strategic and Nuclear Integrations Headquarters, Ramstein Air Base, Germany;
-- Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jacob P. Dunbar, installations and mission support chief enlisted manager, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida;
-- Arthur G. Hatcher Jr., director of communications, Headquarters Air Force Global Strike Command, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana;
-- Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Bertram Providence, command surgeon for U.S. Army Forces Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina;
-- Marine Corps Lt. Col. Nick I. Brown, commander of Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan;
-- Navy Capt. Cedric E. Pringle, director of Senate liaison, U.S. Navy Office of Legislative Affairs; and
-- Coast Guard Capt. Kenneth D. Ivery, chief of the Surface Forces Logistics Center, Norfolk, Virginia.
-- National Guard, Air Force Brig. Gen. David D. Hamlar Jr., Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Minnesota Air National Guard
The Stars and Stripes recognition dinner is not associated with the Stars and Stripes news service.