Published: February 27, 2019
Every February since 1976, we, as a nation, have been paying tribute to the exceptional achievements of African Americans and spotlighting the impactful role they’ve played in shaping our nation’s history as part of Black History Month.
And while it’s long been an annual observance, I can’t help but notice that during this year, in particular, it seems to stand for so much more. Reason being, in a period of increasing divisiveness, it’s important we all feel seen. Most importantly, united.
This is especially the case when we consider today’s military, which, despite its diminishing size, is the most precise representation of the melting pot that is the United States than it has ever been before.
So, while it wasn’t always this way, to honor what this month stands for, we thought it was necessary to salute just a few of the triumphant female black service members who have helped blaze the trails for our country’s diverse military.
1. First Black Female Commander (Marines) – Colonel Adele E. Hodges
Col. Adele E. Hodges started her career as a supply administrative clerk, and her “only aspiration when [she] first joined the Corps was to be the best Marine [she] could be for four years.” And while she’s certainly a prime example of “what you believe determines what you become,” she achieved more than what she initially set her mind to.
In fact, she went on to become the first black female base commander for Camp Lejeune – a role she never imagined in a million years she would fulfill.
2. First Black Female Rear Admiral (Navy) – Lillian E. Fishburne
Lillian E. Fishburne’s story is one of triumph. She was born into a naval family who never doubted her capability to serve our country, even though her birthday came just one year after the integration of women and minorities into the military.
Thus, she took the support of her loved ones to heart. After years of service, she attained the promotion to flag rank as Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and has long left her mark as a U.S. hero.
In fact, during a ceremony to honor Ms. Fishburne and other service members, Secretary of Defense William Cohen had this to say about the legacy she leaves behind: “[Lillian E. Fishburne] is a woman whose story helps us to understand the truth that women are an indispensable part of today’s military.”
3. Fist Black Female Brigadier General (Marines) – Lorna Mahlock
Our very own Lorna Mahlock, friend to and member of the Blue Star Families Advisory Board, immigrated from Jamaica in 1991 and began her USMC career shortly after that. Fast forward 27 years later, and she’s made history. The Senate confirmed her as the first African American woman to serve as Marine Brigadier General in 2018. Not to mention, she currently holds the role of the Marine Corps’ first female Chief Information Officer. Talk about a woman making waves!
4. First Black Female Pilot (Air National Guard) – 1st Lt. Andrea Lewis
The military continues to make history in supporting diversity year-round. But, this month, the Georgia Air National Guard set out to deploy its first black female pilot – 1st Lt. Andrea Lewis.
You can say it was in her DNA as Lewis’ father started as a pilot in the Marine Corps and continued his career with American Airlines. Additionally, her mother is a career airline flight attendant with Delta.
So, it came as no surprise when she decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps, beginning her career with the Air Force Reserves as a flight attendant while working hard to achieve her goal to become a pilot. Nine years later, she was able to say she accomplished that mission she set for herself
In the end, the 1948 Executive Order that Truman signed to end segregation in the military and declare equality for all set the precedent for the triumphs that we’ve seen—even as recent as this month. And these women we’ve spotlighted today help provide a snapshot of the long and proud history of African Americans who so dutifully serve in our country’s military.
Because of them and their fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms, our military is stronger than ever, reflecting the diverse country that it protects and demonstrating the opportunity for its service members—of all walks of life—to achieve greatness.
Show Your Support
We know from the Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey (aMFLS) that female service members experience unique challenges like struggling to obtain basic services such as child care. This Black History Month, honor the women who serve by learning more about their ups and downs, problems and solutions. Download the 2018 aMFLS results to see what Blue Star Nation is doing to help.