CORONADO, Calif. - Sailors from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) attended the African American/Black History Month celebration at Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific (EWTGPAC) headquarters in Coronado, Calif. on Feb. 15, 2013.
The event was organized to recognize diversity in the armed services and to recognize many of the racial challenges the country has successfully faced. EWTGPAC's program also supported the Secretary of the Navy's focus on inclusion as part of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative.
A total of 20 Sailors, including Makin Island's commanding officer, executive officer, and command master chief, were invited by EWTGPAC's commanding officer, Capt. Humberto Quintanilla III, to attend the highly inspirational program that was highlighted by a presentation from an original Tuskegee Airman.
Opening remarks by Quintanilla set the scene by linking the accomplishments of African American service members past, present, and future. He was followed by Marine Corps Col. Brian Kerl, EWTGPAC's director of operations and training, who provided an informative brief about the history of African Americans in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Dressed in a 1942 Montford Point Marine uniform in honor of the first African American Marines, Kerl spoke about the circumstances that contributed to the Marine Corps being the last of the armed services to become integrated.
The keynote speaker was retired Air Force Master Sgt. Nelson Robinson, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, who highlighted the program by talking about his service during World War II.
A member of the famous "Red Tails" of the Army Air Corps/Air Force's 99th Pursuit/Fighter Squadron, a unit made famous by the 2012 movie by the same name, Robinson took the audience on a visual journey of Europe during the war in 1944 and presented footage from the History Channel's reenactment of their achievements, as well as their tactics.
His very informative presentation ended with the singing of the 99th's fight song.
"We are heroes of the night, to hell with the axis might. Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fighting 99," sang Robinson.
Sailors who attended said they appreciated the history lesson on African Americans in the military and the unique opportunity to meet a Tuskegee Airman.
"It's important to know about the military's past so we will not fail by making the same mistakes," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Angela Rushworth, assigned to Makin Island's Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD). "We're taught what to do and what not to do in the sake of history."
Rushworth said being able to hear both Robinson and Kerl speak about what they held dear to their hearts was uplifting and enabled her to understand just how much the country has changed in recent times.
"I enjoyed the presentation and being able to see Mr. Robinson's portfolio on his old job," said Rushworth. "Seeing a piece of history was very interesting and enlightening. I learned that when you're going through challenges you can still make it out alive with stories to tell."
Other Makin Island Sailors said they also enjoyed the guest speakers during the event.
"It is amazing to see how far our country has come," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class Shawn-Patrick Bland, assigned to Makin Island's Air Department. "We have learned from our failures and continued to progress and succeed."
Bland said the most memorable moment of the program was Robinson's chant.
"There are some people in life that stick in your brain, and Mr. Robinson is one of them," said Bland.
For one young Makin Island Sailor, the event reminded her of why she chose to join the military.
"I enjoyed seeing Mr. Robinson light up when talking about his military life," said Aviation Administrationman Airman Savannah McPherson, also from Makin Island's AIMD. "It was inspiring to watch him tell us stories with such pride. It reminded me why I joined in the first place."
The 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine readiness, safety, physical fitness, inclusion, and continuum of service which builds resiliency and hones the most combat-effective force in the history of the Department of the Navy.
Makin Island recently returned from a seven-month deployment and was the first U.S. Navy ship to deploy using a hybrid-electric propulsion system. By using this unique propulsion system, the ship saved over $15 million in fuel costs and the Navy expects to see fuel cost savings of more than $250 million, over the course of the ship's lifecycle. Lessons learned during Makin Island's maiden deployment prove the Navy's commitment to energy awareness and conservation and will positively influence future ship designs for several decades.
This initiative is one of many throughout the Navy and Marine Corps that will enable the Department of the Navy to achieve the Secretary of the Navy's energy goals to improve our energy security and efficiency afloat and ashore, increase our energy independence and help lead the nation toward a clean energy economy.
The ship is currently undergoing a planned maintenance availability (PMA) at Naval Base San Diego. During this seven month PMA period, Makin Island will receive numerous equipment upgrades, modernization, and general repairs. The PMA period will also ensure the ship will reach the full service life of at least 40 years.