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.
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
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
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
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
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