When I entered the U.S. Army in 1974, I found an Army suffering from a defeat in Vietnam and divided by the racism that afflicted the entire country. I was assigned in Germany where racial problems created significant morale and leadership problems. To address the racial issues, the Army created a Race Relations Program that all soldiers had to attend. We had frank conversations but the discussions stayed within some definite parameters. The result for me was a better understanding of how other races perceived me and changed some misperceptions I had about other races and genders since women were becoming a greater part of the military and taking more leadership positions.
I was invited, at the end of the course, to be part of a team that went to German bars and clubs to determine if they practiced discrimination. The team consisted of two African-Americans, and a Caucasian-American (that would be me). We went to several locales and finally came to a club that required identification to enter. The two other team members showed passports and I showed my military identification card. I was refused entrance because I was a soldier. Standing there alone, after the others entered, I began to understand what discrimination was. I, by no means, believe my experience was equal to what African-Americans had experienced, but it was a glimpse of a terrible ogre that helped me understand.
These experiences, coupled with the Army’s management style and zero tolerance for discrimination, made me realize I had to treat others based on their abilities, not skin color or gender. I saw people of all races succeed in the Army because they were given the training and a chance to succeed or fail. That opportunity became a belief for me that we need to give a “hand up”, not a “hand out”. People of all races, creeds and colors were challenged to undertake difficult missions and jobs. Most of the people rose to the challenge.
I believe that we need to make the training and education that will allow people to succeed in life available. We need to challenge our young people to succeed. I believe that every citizen, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin should be given the opportunity to excel and make a decent living. I believe that if the physically and/or mentally able people choose not to educate themselves or take the opportunities to work hard and advance themselves, then it is not government’s responsibilities to carry them forever. A hand up, not a hand out.
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