FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Fort Irwin celebrated National Black History Month at Sandy Basin Community Center Feb. 7. Lt. Col. LaJohnne Morris, the Staff Judge Advocate for the National Training Center, was the guest speaker with Brig. Gen. Jeff Broadwater, NTC commander, in attendance.
For many years African American culture developed separately from mainstream American culture due to slavery and the persistence of racial discrimination in America, as well as African American slave descendants’ desire to create and maintain their own traditions. Today, African American culture is a significant part of American military culture, and more than 195,000 African Americans currently serve in the Army’s Total Force.
Morris, who is the third generation of her family to serve in the military, is the first African American woman to serve as the Staff Judge Advocate at the NTC. She chose to speak about the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African American tank battalion to see combat during World War II.
Black soldiers of that time and place were subject to many racist crimes, including a bloody riot between members of a neighboring segregated tank battalion and white MPs in Alexandria, La. on Jan. 10, 1942. Despite the racial tensions, the 761st Tank Battalion still performed its duties and responsibilities and received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions. In addition, a large number of individual members also received medals, including one Medal of Honor, 11 Silver Stars and about 300 Purple Hearts. They have been called “one of the most effective tank battalions in World War II.”
“It’s the actions of the 761st that paved the way for me and three generations of my family who served and benefited from the atrocity they endured – my maternal grandfather served in the Korean War, my father served as an infantryman with two tours in Vietnam, and myself, who served two tours in Uzbekistan, then rotated between Qatar and Afghanistan,” Morris said.
Ed Wyatt, a civilian video and communications specialist at Fort Irwin, said he found Morris’ speech enlightening.
“I thought I knew a lot about Black History in the military but apparently not,” he said. “She really did upgrade my knowledge on the history of African Americans in the military”.
Morris’ previous assignments include: Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Fort Shaffer, Hawaii; Officer-in-Charge, Detachment Reachback, United States Forces-Afghanistan at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar; and Deputy Chief, Judge Advocate Recruiting Office and Branch Chief, Government Appellate Division at Fort Belvoir, Va.