The Long Arch of Inclusion in the Military

By: Technical Sergeant Thomas Graham, MSW Candidate

I will admit that I had difficulty with how to approach equality in the United States military today. At first, I was color-blinded; the U.S. military today is a rainbow of racial inclusion.  So why would I need to fight for racial equality in the military?  I am very aware this has not always been the case in our country’s history.  Every major war and battle sees its own form of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred.

Stressing the need for interracial solidarity in the post-war world, African-American and white soldiers got together as part of the army's general educational program at a heavy bomber base in Italy. March 1945.
Stressing the need for interracial solidarity in the postwar world, African-American and white soldiers got together as part of the army’s general education program at a heavy bomber base in Italy. March 1945.

Inclusion is a major component in building comradery in the ranks; each unit is built on the belief that they are the best at what they do.  In fact, over my 13 years of service between the Marines, Air Force, and Tennessee Air National Guard, I have never been in a unit where the commander ever told the troops that this was the worst command he had ever been a part of; we were always the best.  So inclusion is the heart of a unit, but that must mean we have to exclude others so that we can have a target to be better than.  Now each service in our military will joke about the others, but when it comes time to win the fight all the branches come together.  More importantly, when it comes to exclusion we have to have an enemy, and propaganda has helped us to see and hate that enemy and built beliefs about other cultures, races, and peoples that were and are false.  This same propaganda also colored the military’s belief system. I could go through each decade of our country’s existence and point out those who were excluded, but it might just be easier to list the groups: American Indians, African Americans, Spanish Americans, German Americans, Japanese Americans, and Muslim Americans.

In every conflict, these Americans were targeted as being inferior, savage, and alien to American morals, goals, and beliefs; but through a flaw, that is inherent to the U.S. military, a three pronged insurgency has always conquered these military belief systems.  The first prong was the individuals discriminated against.  The military, because of its fears and beliefs about these individuals, would build whole regiments of the excluded individuals who still fought for this country.  African Americans in the Civil War and Japanese Americans in War World Two are just two examples and in these and other cases those individuals proved that they were gallant, brave and to be admired. The second prong is the officer class. These are the educated and older individuals who are chosen to lead.  Both of the attributes that qualify someone to be an officer also help to fight injustice in the military.  Through education and experience discrimination will always fail to hold the front lines against inclusion.  The final prong is youth, with each new generation of warriors, old guard beliefs fade away and tolerance grows in the ranks.

Even now this battle can be seen waging as the military begins the battle of including the L.G.B.T community as equals.  I have heard those individuals of the old guard who fear serving next to someone who lives and loves in a way that the old guard fears but I also see the inevitable that inclusion will always win, but only if we work towards justice.

Brief Bio:

Tommy Graham HeadshotThomas Graham is a second-year Masters of Social Work student at the University of Memphis and a U.S. veteran. Mr. Graham has proudly served 13 years as a member in the US military. He is happily married to Leslie Graham and father to three beautiful girls: Isabella, Saffron, and River. In his time at U of M he has also played an important role in the Veterans Resource Center, developing the new student orientation for veterans. He is currently interning at the Memphis VA Hospital in suicide prevention and will be part of the first Crisis Intervention training for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. Mr. Graham will graduate with his MSW in May 2016.

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.Student submissions published on the Hooks Institute’s blog are intended to create a safe space for students to express their opinions on civil rights issues of our time. In doing so Hooks Institute student blog publications have been left largely unedited as to keep the student author’s personal voice intact.