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Black successes traced to military,’ Brooks says

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks stops to shake hands with Col. Rick Jenkins before leaving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District Wednesday.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[2/12/04]A top U.S. Army spokesman during the Iraq war said here Wednesday that the progress of black Americans can be traced to leadership posts in the country’s armed forces.

Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, now deputy director for the War on Terrorism, was keynote speaker for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2004 African-American History Month Kickoff Program. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 people heard him speak at the Corps’ Vicksburg District offices.

“The long-repeated pattern of honorable service by black Americans in one war being forgotten by the time of the next war’s start, requiring a new generation to prove themselves in order to gain the rights for all, has finally been broken,” Brooks said. “Finally.”

“We no longer wonder or worry if different races can serve together or if integrated units can be cohesive. We don’t worry if white soldiers can be subordinate to black leaders we just do it. And in doing it we show the way for America.”

Brooks’ Iraq assignment was as U.S. Central Command’s Deputy Director for Operations and spokesman. He accepted his new assignment in June, and he now lives in Alexandria, Va., the Vicksburg District commander, Col. Frederick L. Clapp, said in introducing Brooks.

Among those in attendance were top city and county officials, ROTC cadets from state colleges and school children who won awards in a poster contest for this month, which is African-American History Month.

Blacks have helped defend Americans from colonial days, more than a century before the nation was born, Brooks said. He gave specific examples of black individuals and units that had served with gallantry in each major war since then.

And he said the military had helped lead progress in society at large.

“I’m proud that the services have in fact paved the way for a changed America, especially my service, the Army,” he said. “Integration would come by law in the military and then it would come in society. And it would be haltingly received in both. But never again would the doors of opportunity be locked to African-Americans as a matter of policy.”

Many famous black “firsts” have passed courageously through the doors of opportunity to military-leadership posts that had been opened by the deeds of their predecessors, Brooks said.

By “doing what was right, even if it was not popular,” they have done so “not to test America’s promise, but to fulfill it,” he said.

Brooks said he has been “doubly privileged” to have both inherited advancement opportunities from blacks who achieved “firsts” before him and to have achieved some “firsts” himself.

He is, for example, the first black person selected to fill the highest-ranking cadet position at the U.S. Military Academy. The post had been held “by the likes of Douglas MacArthur and William Westmoreland, Robert E. Lee,” he said.

“I do this with all humility because there were opportunities that were extended to me,” he said after his speech. “I was called for a position of service at a time and therefore I was.

“But that was a door that opened in a place that represented America, and had its own spotted history on equality and opportunity. But the tide’s clearly changed.”

Brooks said he was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and that he grew up in a military family that “always sought excellence as an outcome of everything we became involved in.”

He said his brother is now a West Point commandant of cadets, “the ranking officer over top of the corps of cadets and subordinate to only the superintendent of the Military Academy.”

Despite gains by black Americans, though, many key leadership positions have not yet been tested by them, Brooks added.

“Yet other doors are beginning to close under their own weight,” he said. “Not because they’re being pushed closed by people who would deny America’s promise, but because fewer black Americans are passing through them. Fewer are following the lead of those who passed through before.”