* Throughout history, America flourishes when it effectively harnesses the strength and innovation of its diversity. Black History Month offers an annual opportunity to reflect on the power and competitive advantage diversity provides to U.S. military forces.
While there are many examples of individuals who blazed a trail for others, in the U.S. military the pathfinder among pathfinders is the Army's buffalo soldiers, the men of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments who enjoyed significant military success and paved the way for future integration of military units by women, African Americans and other minorities.
With the Union desperate for manpower, African Americans served honorably in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, mainly in United States Colored Troops Regiments. Post-Civil War, Congress directed the Army to recruit and field two black infantry regiments and two black cavalry regiments, resulting in these soldiers comprising 10 percent of U.S. Army end strength from 1870-1898.
Native Americans gave the 10th Cavalry Regiment the nickname "buffalo soldiers" in the Southwest and Great Plains, possibly because the soldiers fought so valiantly and fiercely the Native Americans afforded them the same respect as they did the mighty buffalo. Whatever the source, the nickname ultimately referred to all African American regiments formed in 1866.
Despite being paid as little as $13 a month, many African Americans enlisted in these regiments because military service offered an alternative to what they could expect in civilian society. Their main missions involved controlling Native Americans, capturing cattle rustlers and thieves and protecting settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews--all missions they performed with distinction. Buffalo soldiers had the lowest military desertion and court-martial rates of their time, and more than 25 were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
While these regiments served mainly on the American frontier, earning a reputation for integrity and combat skill, some also fought in the Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War, and conflict on the Mexican frontier during World War I.
The men serving in these regiments demonstrated inspirational initiative, courage and patriotism in the face of significant prejudice, leaving a legacy of service that continues today.
In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order eliminating racial segregation in...