February 27, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Letter: I think we’re just Americans

I grew up in Morris. Attended St. Mary’s and graduated from Morris High School in 1987. A few days after graduation, I took a plane to Fort Jackson, South Carolina where I attended basic training. I was still 17 years old and I had joined the National Guard mainly because Uncle Sam would pay for the majority of my college expenses (it was a good decision). 

Looking back, I believe our platoon closely resembled America and featured men (no women I guess) from most states and all races. We were all treated the same (harshly), no matter where we came from or looked like.

There were several black members of our platoon, and one of them (James from Washington DC) and I, became pretty close friends. I remember whenever James would hang with some of his black friends, he seemed to ignore me, but I didn’t hold it against him or give it much thought. That summer went fast and following graduation, I jumped on a plane back to Morris.

Shortly after returning home, I remember one of my High School friends ask “was your drill sergeant Black?” I clearly remember my answer even today. I hesitated and I had to visualize my drill sergeant’s appearance, which was dominated by the perfectly pressed camouflage uniform, shined black boots, and a large brown hat. I then had to visualize the color of his skin, that was only visible around his face, neck, and hands. At that point I finally had my answer: “Yes, he was Black.” 

Funny thing, I never thought about it until then. I’m older and arguably much wiser now, but the observations of that inexperienced 17-year-old are the most important here. You see, in the Army then, and I’m confident still now, everyone is just green and divided only by rank (which is always earned.) Identifying, separating, or judging anyone based on the color of their skin, no matter what color they are, is strictly forbidden.

Jason Kirwn