(Left) Marine Lt. Col. Melissa D. Chestnut, Marine Col. Robert L. Wiser, retired Marine Sgt. Maj. William Smalls, retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Efrim Wilson, Marine Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Griffin and retired Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Julius D. Spain Sr. pose for a photo after the Black History Month observance Friday in Rosenthal Theater. Photo by Marisol Rivera

Recognizing African-American Marines: Experiences, growth, the future

Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall observed National African American History Month by hosting a panel of guests in Rosenthal Theater Friday.

The observance recognized Marines aboard Henderson Hall whose combined careers represented more than 100 years of service and experience, as African-American leaders within the Marine Corps. Featured guests included Marine Lt. Col. Melissa D. Chestnut, supply policy and sustainment section head, Sustainment Branch, Plans, Policies, Strategic Mobility, Installation and Logistics; retired Marine Sgt. Maj. William H. Small Jr., naval science instructor, Bowie High School, NJROTC; retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Efrim A. Wilson, naval science instructor, North Western High School, NJROTC; and retired Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Julius D. Spain Sr., Arlington Branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Arlington Virginia.
    The observance told the story of how Marines have always carried on the tradition of “every Marine is a riflemen,” “No Marine left behind” and “Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful).”  The foundation of the Marine Corps leadership are its core values, and the leadership traits and principles that are taught to every Marine. 

The leaders also explained that when going through basic training, Marines learn to work as one, and that cohesion is not a function of a unit but of the Corps itself. Although that is true, many have experienced discrimination, biases and racism on and off duty and they made sure that didn’t affect the way they led as African-American leaders within the service and their communities.

Each member of the panel shared their experiences whether they we were looked over for promotion, told to complete tasks that no one else wanted to do or not being selected for leadership positions that they qualified for are some scenarios that were discussed.  

When asked, “What advice would you give to fellow Marines and civilians in leadership positions to encourage diversity and inclusion within the Marine Corps?”  Chestnut said, “Leaders must ensure everyone feels valued, no matter the rank, race, religion or gender.

“Also, talking to your Marines and civilians, ensuring the work environment is a safe place for all and get to know your employees. Lastly, ensuring there is enough diversity within all commands both Marines and civilians, allows for innovation; different backgrounds and experiences help create better work environments, these are just a few ways we can begin to move forward.”

Even though the speakers experienced dis discrimination in different ways and different generations, they stressed the importance of educating others; standing up for what is right and learning from every experience that will help everyone grow as a nation and in the Marine Corps.

By Marisol Rivera

Henderson Hall Public Affairs Office