FORT BRAGG, N.C. (February 2, 2015) - I held my son today. My daughters, who are 5 and 7, played dress up in my Army Combat Uniform. Watching them play “Army Sergeant,” while holding my son, gave me a moment to reflect on my life and those who paved my way.
The night before, my wife and I took our three children to see the movie “Selma,” which highlighted the course of action taken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others to gain voting rights in Alabama during the civil rights movement.
It was an educational tool for my children and a reminder for me that black Americans have come a long way since those turbulent times. The march on Selma for equal voting rights in America was 50 years ago. Five years ago, I pledged my military service to America.
My grandfather's military service took him to Asia with the U.S. Navy in the Korean War. Today, I serve, and watching my kids play in my uniform, I see another generation in my family possibly serving.
My experiences in the military are undoubtedly different than what my grandfather experienced, and hopefully different from what my kids might experience.
U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Godette, right, a public affairs specialist with the 382nd Public Affairs Detachment, Raleigh, N.C., is shown with a Polish army soldier during a deployment to the country in May 2014. (Courtesy photo by Marilyn Spencer)
Traveling from Brooklyn, New York, to Fort Benning, Georgia, for Army basic training was an eye-opening experience. On one hand, I gained insight on military life and developed bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime. On the other hand, some experiences were not as pleasant.
For many young Soldiers, going to basic training is their first encounter with people who are from different areas of the country, with different backgrounds, ideals, and views. Racism was a common experience, and not one I was surprised to encounter. However, at 25, I was one of the oldest Soldiers in my training company.
My age and understanding helped me cope with the ignorance of others. Some however, physically displayed their frustrations, by causing brawls in the barracks. I often thought back to what my grandfather's experiences must have been as a black man in a similar setting, six decades before me.
He endured his encounters at a time much more tense than today.
If he could do it, so could I. My military experiences have helped me grow as a Soldier, a father, and a husband, and allowed me the opportunity to visit countries I never would have dreamed of visiting.
In 2012, I deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a place many Americans have yet to see. In Guantanamo, I worked with media representatives from across the world, analyzing different global perspectives. While interviewing a former Cuban national who worked on the U.S. naval base at GTMO, he expressed the similarities with his struggles in Cuba as a
young man to that of black people in America during the civil rights movements. My eye-opening encounters only grew while I was in Cuba.
On several occasions, I helped oversee international media outlets during the pre-commission trials of the five individuals responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks. More than once, I looked the accused straight in the eyes - men who might hate me for who I am and the uniform I wore. Interacting with those men as a U.S. Soldier and a native New Yorker could have
given me the excuse to stare at them with hate, but my life experiences up to that point allowed me to look past them.
Toward the end of my deployment to GTMO I became a subject matter expert on Camp X-Ray, the first detention facility constructed on the island for detainees of the War on Terror. It has since become a vacant reminder - worn down and dilapidated by nature - of a frenzied, post-9/11 time that once was.
A popular destination for incoming news media representatives, one remarked that walking through the abandoned facility gave him the same eerie feeling when he toured Auschwitz.
His comment weighed heavily on me two years later when my unit was sent to Eastern Europe to help support U.S. Army Europe and NATO initiatives.
Most of my time was spent in Poland, which maintained the feel of post-Soviet control in many small cities. The beauty of Poland's nature was unparalleled however, serving as the first place I saw wild buffalo roaming in plush green grass fields (a military mission to South Dakota being the second).
I spent several days working with Polish Soldiers as they trained with American allies. A trip, led by Polish Soldiers, to a World War II Polish Army museum revealed how far that country had come since the desolation of war. I visited six cities in Poland and could count on one hand how many other black people I saw - an observation my unit and I joked about...
being the sole black American member. Not once did I feel unwelcome, a thought which also made me reflect.
Before leaving Europe, we visited Berlin, Germany. Two battle buddies and I walked the streets of Berlin for hours, visiting landmarks and taking in the culture. The Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie made me reflect the most; the lives lost, insecurity, and division. The city now is full of diversity.
Now, I'm back home, holding my son and watching my daughters play in my uniform. I appreciate the experiences given to me by the sacrifices of others, like my grandfather. There is still much to be sought after, like a greater representation of black Americans in military occupation specific positions that do not currently represent much diversity, the end of racism and the broadening of horizons.
My hope is that one day, my children will appreciate their own experiences given to them from the sacrifices made by not only myself, but those who came before me.
By Sgt. Brian Godette
U.S. Army Reserve Command
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article