2023 Black History Month

Airman Emmanuel Akanmu

107th Attack Wing, Medical Group, New York Air National Guard

Akanmu joined the Guard in 2021 and considers basic training the highlight of his service to date. Black History Month, he says, is "recognizing the contributions of African Americans to the country."

Senior Airman Amaad Aziz

107th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard

Aziz has served since 2019, including the COVID-19 response mission, after an active duty stint that took him to Germany and Poland. Black History Month is "important because it’s a time to reflect and learn the struggles that African Americans have endured and to celebrate the success and achievements accomplished by African Americans. This month is also important because it helps us recognize the things that make us both unique but also alike and to celebrate diversity as well.'

Senior Airman Abigail Dawes-Blake

105 Air Wing, New York Air National Guard

Dawes-Blake, a native of Jamaica, has served in the Guard since 2019. "This observance would mean the world to me as it would encourage other 13-year-olds back home to find their passion and stick to it even when it may seem impossible now. It was not easy migrating and navigating my way to this path but having a passion and drive for what I love got me here, and they can do it too."

Staff Sgt. Malik Brooks

174th Operations Support Squadron, New York Air National Guard

Brooks joined the Air Guard in 2016 to instill discipline and direction in his life. Asked about the importance of Black History Month, he said "it is the obligation to acknowledge and respect an individual’s moral, religious/spiritual or cultural beliefs and practices."

Maj. Johnny Brown III

South Carolina Joint Force Headquarters, South Carolina Army National Guard

Brown, an AH-64D Apache Longbow pilot, has served since 2000 — including a 2011-12 deployment to Iraq and Kuwait. The highlight of his service is "meeting some of the greatest people in the world in the most unique situations on the planet. People from all different walks of life all converge with a singular purpose and mission." He says this observance "is an opportunity for me to place emphasis on contributions, history and current efforts with regard to African Americans."

Staff Sgt. Anna Duncan

Human Resources NCO, Wisconsin Army National Guard

Duncan joined the Guard in 2004 because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A combat medic, she deployed to Iraq in 2009-10 to work in an eye clinic. "I tend to stay in the shadows when it comes to celebrating/observing Black History Month because I think of how much harder it was for my ancestors to fight for their basic human rights and I don’t feel that I am as deserving to put myself center stage; they deserve the observance."

Staff Sgt. Jalen Ellingberg

Joint Force Headquarters, Arkansas Air National Guard

Ellingberg has served in the Guard since 2013. "This observance means a lot to me. It highlights that there is diversity amongst the military/Air Force ranks. I also hope that it shows that we are a very welcoming service, and don’t care too much about your ethnic, social, economic, or sexual background. As long as you’re willing to stand on our core values of, Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do!"

Sgt. 1st Class Marvin Hannah

157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Wisconsin National Guard

Hannah joined the Guard in 2006 and has deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Germany, with the Bosnia mission the highlight of his service. He says of this month's observance, "It's important to recognize every individual who plays a critical role in the preservation of our life."

Staff Sgt. Andre Harrison

122nd Force Support Squadron, Indiana Air National Guard

Harrison joined the Army in 2011 and the Air National Guard in 2018. He was one of thousands of Guardsmen who were part of the COVID-19 response. Asked about the importance of this observance, he said: "I appreciate a place that celebrates diversity. It also benefits our self-development. I enjoy reading about Black history and the diversity of races."

Sgt. Cree George

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 199th Brigade Support Battalion, Louisiana Army National Guard

George has served since 2007, including deployment for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. Her favorite part of serving is the family she has gained in the Louisiana National Guard. "There is no other feeling like having brothers and sisters in arms that you can rely on in a time of need." She says observing Black History Month "gives the Guard more insight to who their Soldiers are on a personal level. Outside of the military we are all so different and still deal with the struggles of everyday life."

2nd Lt. Brittany Gibbs

HHB, 2D Battalion 263d Army Air and Missile Defense Command, South Carolina National Guard

Gibbs joined the Guard in 2015 to serve while going to school and develop a civilian career with the opportunity to be full time. "This observance is a challenge to continue growing in every aspect possible as a young leader in my military career and personal life. It means that I beat the statistics set out before me and I’ve shown those who will come after me that it is possible. It means that someone is always watching even if I don’t think they are. I don’t take this observance lightly. I am honored."

Sgt. 1st Class Tyrell Glasper

Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion 1-141 Field Artillery Battalion, Louisiana Army National Guard

Glasper joined the Guard in 2012 and deployed to Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve in 2020-21. "Growing up and watching my uncle and brother put on the uniform to help protect our country inspired me to follow in their footsteps. ... This observance means a great deal to me, to be chosen out of hundreds of other Soldiers to be featured in the 2023 Heritage Month National Guard posting. It shows me that my work isn’t going unnoticed and I’m doing something right."

1st Sgt. Damon Glover

187th Brigade Signal Company, New York Army National Guard

In his more than 38 years in the Guard, Glover has deployed overseas to Egypt, Mali, Qatar, Australia and Kuwait. Asked about this month's observance, he said: "We as a people have come so far since he (the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.) marched for equality for all people but, more importantly, African Americans."

Lt. Col. Delbert Gustave

369th Sustainment Brigade, New York Army National Guard

Gustave, a Guardsman since 2020, is deployed to Jordan and has served on missions in Syria and Iraq. A highlight of his service was being in charge of the recovery of thousands of people who died of COVID-19 in New York during the pandemic. He says this observance "highlights the contributions of African Americans in all aspects of society. It's a reminder of our past, highlights our present accomplishments, and focuses on the future goal of eliminating social and racial injustice."

Spc. Nare Frederic Marie Igor

HHC, 369TH SB, New York Army National Guard

Igor joined the Guard in 2020 and has served in Kuwait. "I am originally from Burkina Faso. It is a privilege for me to be in the U.S. Army and to be part of the Harlem Hellfighters." This observance "means a lot to me. It feels great to see the achievement of minorities celebrated."

Staff Sgt. Eddie Johnson

157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Wisconsin Army National Guard

Johnson, a light wheel mechanic, joined the Guard in 2002. His favorite part of serving is wearing the uniform, representing the nation, and helping people in the community. Among the missions he has participated in: Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Master Sgt. Marutina Leigh

260th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), District of Columbia Army National Guard

Leigh was active-duty Army before joining the Army Guard in 2013. She has deployed twice to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to Kuwait. "This observance is a reminder of freedom and the pain my ancestors endured while securing my future. It’s time for reflection and my opportunity to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments, achievements and contributions African Americans made around the world."

Airman 1st Class Janiah Lyons

118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard

Lyons joined the Air Guard in 2021, continuing a family legacy of service. She says this observance means "to be a beacon for others, to work at or accomplishment of honoring the requirements of law, morality or ritual."

Tech. Sgt. Tremell McAdory

107th Attack Wing, Logistics Readiness Squadron, New York Air National Guard

McAdory joined the Air Guard in 2009 to give back to his country and learn a skill or trade. A highlight of his service was deploying to Afghanistan in 2013. "This observance means a lot to my background and my history, and I’m glad that the military is getting involved with this."

Staff Sgt. Marlon A. McAllister

Higher Headquarters Company, 835th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Missouri Army National Guard

McAllister says the highlight of his more than 10 years of service is the camaraderie and learning how to build a functional team with complete strangers. "I would like to be viewed as a person of color that can be a role model or even a trend setter for younger Soldiers. I believe that it is important for young Soldiers of color to see leaders who look like them in their formations! I know for me that was a huge factor in me deciding to stay around a while; seeing a leader who looks like me let me know that there was hope and a very obtainable goal!"

Capt. Nocomis Miner

38th Infantry Division Artillery, Kentucky Army National Guard

Miner, an assistant fire control office, joined the Guard in 2016 to become a better leader and get direction in his career. He says this month's observance "is a chance to not only celebrate but also to educate others on various groups’ histories and contributions to American history. These are important times that help us to understand some of our own cultures and identities, as well as others."

Staff Sgt. Towanne N. Mingo

Joint Force Headquarters, South Carolina National Guard

Mingo joined the Guard in 2002. "My favorite part of serving is being the vision and motivation for the little brown and black girls when they see me in uniform." Mingo says she was surprised to be featured during Black History month. "This observance is such an honor that I wasn’t expecting. When it was brought to me about being highlighted, I felt as if I shouldn’t do it because I only do my job. I do my job to the best of my ability everyday and try to help every Soldier that I cross paths with."

Staff Sgt. Tyler Moore

174 Attack Wing/Force Support Squadron, New York Air National Guard

Moore says serving in Kuwait on a 2019 deployment was the highlight of his Guard service, which began in 2014. "This observance means a lot to me. It makes me feel like I’m contributing and making a difference."

Sgt. 1st Class Talisa Owens

National Guard Professional Education Center

Owens joined the Guard in 2007 in search of better opportunities. What she likes best about serving is meeting people from all different backgrounds and cultures. "We are celebrating those that have sacrificed time, effort and life for people of color to have an equal opportunity in our society. We are also celebrating trailblazers and ceiling breakers that continue to make positive change, moving Black Americans in the right direction."

Pfc. Wensky Payant

Alpha Company, 186-Base Support Battalion, Vermont National Guard

Payant, a native of Haiti, joined the Guard in November. His military occupational specialty is motor transport operator. "I joined because I like to drive and travel. The National Guard offers the opportunity to do both."

Sgt. 1st Class William Christopher Rhodes

Alpha company 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion / Headquarters and Headquarters Company 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, New York Army National Guard

Rhodes has served since 2000 and is currently deployed to Kuwait. His interest in the military started as a 15-year-old student when he wrote a paper about the Tuskegee Airmen and interviewed retired member Col. Clarence Dart. "As a citizen, Soldier, husband and father, I am grateful for his sacrifice — the battles he and others fought for equality with their personal courage, loyalty and commitment to duty. The importance to me is more than words can express. I feel it is necessary for us to observe, because we have come a long way from where we were, while I continue to believe things can only get better."

Tech. Sgt. Jarell Roach

155 Air Refueling Wing, headquarters staff, Nebraska Air National Guard

Roach has served in the Guard for more than 20 years, including a 2010 deployment to Iraq and a 2015 deployment to Qatar and Al Dhafra. The highlight of his service: graduating boot camp, which he said transformed his life. Black History Month "means the voice of previous black men and woman are being remembered as a part of this nation’s heritage. Being remembered by others (us) who they dreamed of reaching."

Master Sgt. Savine Roberts

107th Attack Wing, Force Support Squadron, New York Air National Guard

Roberts joined the Air Force in 2020. Black History Month "means that we still have a long way go. Just like Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous speech ... 'one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.' ”

Tech Sgt. Victoria Spearmon

Arkansas Air National Guard Headquarters

Spearmon joined the Army Reserves in 2009 before joining the Air Guard. For her, this observance means "taking the time to reflect how far we have come as a country to how much more we need to do. … So many sacrifices, tears and strides along the way."

Senior Master Sgt. Yolanda Spikes

113th Security Forces Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Spikes has served in the military since 2002, joining the Guard in 2008. Missions have taken her to Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Capitol after the Jan. 6 riot. She also participated in a State Partnership Program exchange with Burkina Faso. This observance "means that WE are being seen. It is a deliberate acknowledgement of the challenges, differences and success of African Americans."

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Steward

118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard

Steward says joining the Air Guard in 2015 was one of the best decisions he's ever made. The highlight of his service has been the friendships and bonds made with his wingmen. "When everyone is focused on the same thing, going through the struggles and the success at the same time, that level of camaraderie would be rare to achieve as a civilian." The observance of Black History Month "to me means the acknowledgment, understanding and respect."

Senior Master Sgt. Elnora Strong

107th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard

Strong joined the Guard in 1998 and has served in Livorno, Italy, and, more recently, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, for Operation Allies Welcome. "This observance means an ongoing sense of pride for the struggles, triumphs and many contributions of African/Black people to this country."

Spc. Solomon Tilleskjor

34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Minnesota Army National Guard

Tilleskjor, a Guardsman since 2016, joined "to be a part of something bigger than myself. ... This observance for me is remembering where we came from and honoring those that sacrificed to get us here."

Sgt. 1st Class Carla Tillman

National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit, Camp Robinson, Arkansas

Tillman says joining the Guard with her best friend in 1990 after high school was one of the best decisions of her life. "This observance is a chance for me to honor my ancestors that paved the way for me to become the woman that I am today."

Sgt. Jimmy Townsend

108th Public Affairs Detachment/ Joint Force Headquarters, South Carolina National Guard

Townsend joined the Guard in 2014 to continue his family's legacy of military service. He considers this month's observance "a chance of remembrance, reflection and honor of sacrifice, trauma and victory over the challenges faced and overcome."

Staff Sgt. Ajay Sieh Vogar

133rd Airlift Wing/Mission Support Group: Commander Support Staff, Minnesota Air National Guard

Vogar joined the Guard in 2017 "to be a part of a purpose that is greater than me." Highlights of his service include a deployment to Qatar and assisting in the COVID-19 response mission. He is a native of Liberia in West Africa and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Command Sgt. Maj. Tad Washington

1/153 Infantry Regiment, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Arkansas Army National Guard

Washington, a Guardsman since 2002, has deployed to Djibouti and twice to Iraq. "Observing Black history is always an honor. It's an opportunity to reflect upon the strength, fortitude and willingness of African Americans past and present, that have and continue to blaze trails for generations that follow. I would not be where I am today, in life and the Guard, without standing on the shoulders of others that made this moment possible."

Master Sgt. Owen White

105th LRS Air Terminal Function, New York Air National Guard

White, an immigrant from Jamaica, joined the Guard in 2000 and deployed to Iraq in 2011. A highlight of his service was flying to New York City and circling the Statue of Liberty aboard a Black Hawk helicopter. He considers Black History Month a "validation of the concept of equal opportunity. If you give people an honest chance, without prejudice, they can live up to the same values and performance standards as anyone else before them. That is why I am so proud of the history of African Americans in this country."

Senior Airman Lakiesha Williams

174 Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard

Williams, a security forces journeyman, joined the Air Guard in 2020. A highlight of her service was being part of the security team for a presidential visit to Hancock Field Air National Guard Base. She says this observance "to me is taking the time out to acknowledge and honor those who have contributed in great ways to the world we live in today. I believe this time allows children to see that greatness comes from all backgrounds. If they see someone who looks like them, achieve something exceptional, it may plant the seed in them that they can be great too."

Chief Master Sgt. Saleem Winters

107th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard

Winters joined the military 25 years ago for the education benefits and to continue his family's legacy of military service. "This celebration reminds me to acknowledge the impact that my ancestors have on my life and the lives around me. ... Being open to learn about another’s culture and history offers greater understanding and knowledge of true American history by promoting diversity, bringing awareness and validating how we are all, in fact, connected through shared history."