This year, the theme of BHM is “Inspiring Change”. The theme, designated by the Department of Defense, pays tribute to the generations of Black Americans that have fought ongoing and historic oppression and inequality in order to create progress and change within America.
U.S. Sixth Fleet Current Operations Action Officer Lt. Cmdr. Isaiah Stokes spoke about “Inspiring Change” during a BHM celebration hosted by the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s Multicultural Heritage Committee onboard U.S. Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples on Feb. 1, 2023.
“As I reflect on this year’s theme of ‘Inspiring Change’, I think about the many African American civil rights icons, government and business leaders, athletes and entertainers celebrated across our nation, noted for their courage, diligence, skill, and tenacity,” said Stokes.
“For us in the military, present barrier breakers such as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, General Charles Brown, Air Force Chief of Staff, and General [Michael] Langley, Commander USAFRICOM, and the first African American four-star general in the Marine Corps, are inspiring change across the Department of Defense. For us in the Navy, names such as Vice Adm. Samuel Gravely and Adm. Michelle Howard, Master Chief [Boatswain's Mate] Carl Brashear and [Fleet] Master Chief April Beldo, might ring a bell,” Stokes added.
The stories and accomplishments of Gravely, Howard, Brashear and Beldo continue to inspire change in the Navy.
Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr.
Gravely began his career as a seaman apprentice in the Navy Reserve in 1942. In 1944, he was commissioned as an ensign, becoming the first African American Navy Reserve officer.
Gravely eventually transitioned from the Navy Reserve to active duty.
In the 1960s, he was designated as acting commander over USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717) becoming the first African American officer to command a ship. He went on to command the USS Falgout (DE-324), USS Taussig (DE-1030) and USS Jouett (DLG-29).
In 1977, while serving aboard the USS Jouett in the Vietnam War, Gravely was promoted to rear admiral.
In 1976, Gravely was promoted to vice admiral and became the commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet.
The Richmond, Virgina native was the first African American commander, captain, rear admiral, and vice admiral in the Navy.
Adm. Michelle Howard
Howard graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982.
In 1999, she became the first Black woman to command a Navy combatant ship, USS Rushmore (LSD 47).
In 2014, she was promoted to the rank of four-star admiral becoming the first woman to hold the rank. In this role she served as vice chief of naval operations until 2016.
In 2016, Howard assumed command of both U.S. Naval Forces Europe – Naval Forces Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command Naples (NATO) becoming the first woman four-star admiral to command operational forces.
Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Brashear
Brashear enlisted in 1948, and after initial duty as steward, he was rated as a boatswain’s mate. While serving as a boatswain’s mate, Brashear began training in salvage diving.
In 1954, Brashear became the first African American to attend and graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage school leading him to become the first African American Navy diver.
Brashear was onboard the USS Hoist (ARS-40) in 1966 for the recovery of a nuclear weapon when he was injured in an accident. The injury resulted in surgeons amputating his left leg below the knee.
As an amputee, the medical survey board attempted to retire Brashear as unfit for duty. The determined diver refused to submit. Instead, he proved that his abilities were not diminished after the amputation. After returning to diving, Brashear eventually became the first African American master diver in the history of the Navy.
Fleet Master Chief April Beldo
Like Gravely and Howard, Beldo claimed many firsts.
In 2006, she became the first woman command master chief (CMC) of Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois.
In 2009, she became the first Black woman CMC to be assigned to an aircraft carrier (USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)).
In 2012, Beldo was the first woman and the first Black force master chief (FORCM) for Naval Education and Training Command.
She ended her career in 2017 after becoming the first woman to be the Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education (MPT&E) fleet master chief.
Gravely, Howard, Brashear and Beldo are amongst the generations of Black Americans that have served and continue to serve and inspire change in the Navy.
These individuals, along with many others, knew that they were and are “the beginning of things to come,” said Ensign Jesse Brown, the first Black naval aviator.
During BHM, we celebrate those who have served in order to inspire change.
NSA Naples is an operational ashore base that enables U.S., allied, and partner nation forces to be where they are needed, when they are needed to ensure security and stability in the European, African, and Central Command areas of responsibility.