The WV National Guard Celebrates Black History Month: An Inspirational Story from One of Our Own

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christina Hammack
  • 130th Airlift Wing
February is Black History Month, a time to commemorate African-Americans who have changed the world. Lt. Col. Kenneth Hale of the 130th Airlift Wing has a story to truly inspire West Virginians. 

"It is indeed an honor and privilege to carry the torch of freedom. I know I stand tall because I stand on my father's shoulders and the shoulders of many other Tuskegee Airman and African-American servicemen and women who have fought in all our nation's conflicts and wars. This year more than others is a tribute to our forefathers struggle and we as a people know the struggle is worth fighting for but we cannot sit back and think this one victory is going to end the war." - Lt. Col. Kenneth Hale. 

The election of United States President Barack Obama will likely make Black History Month this year a memorable celebration enabling people to be more optimistic about race relations in this country than ever. This is especially a specific time of year for Lt. Col. Hale to reflect on the aspirations of his own family. His father, Edward Henry Hale was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, a dedicated group of young men who enlisted to become America's first black military airmen. Each member possessed the same strong desire to serve to the best of his ability. Edward was color blind, which limited him to an enlisted career. He was assigned as a crew chief, despite his dream to become a pilot. 

The 99th Pursuit Squadron, which Edward belonged to, distinguished itself by being awarded two Presidential Unit Citations for outstanding support and aerial combat support in the 12th Air Force in Italy. The Tuskegee Airmen did not lose a single bomber to enemy fire in more than 200 combat missions, a feat unmatched by any other fighter group. During World War II, many white units were undermanned and needed qualified people, but were not able to utilize the experienced black personnel because of the segregation policy. Assignments for black military members were limited. Even after honored black military members, such as Edward and the Tuskegee group returned home after the war, they faced racism and bigotry. It wasn't until 1948 that President Harry Truman enacted Executive Order 9981 that directed equality of treatment and opportunity in all of the United States of America. This in time ended racial segregation in the military. 

Edward returned home and was employed as an Armor Star Meat Packing Company truck driver. He was married with six sons, in which he left a military legacy to. Five out of his six sons served, including Lt. Col. Hale. "I consider him one of my heroes because of what he went through at that time," he said of his father. Lt. Col. Hale has served the West Virginia Air National Guard for 24 years and currently is the Labor Relations and State Equal Employment Manager. He ensures Air and Army military members are given fair treatment regardless of race, gender or religion. He also serves as President of the West Virginia Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP's mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination. Upon his appointment into the position, Lt. Col. Hale commented, "I am grounded in my roots. I am grounded in the belief that people should be treated fairly." 

In his free time, he is an avid member of his church and involves himself in the community whenever he can. He mentors and coaches youth and meets with community advisors, making decisions for improvement. His many unpaid hours earned him the Air Force Outstanding Volunteer Service Ribbon and Roy L. Wilkins Meritorious Service award. Lt. Col. Hale was recognized by the National Guard Bureau (NGB) in 1998 as State Equal Employment Manager of the Year. NGB also recognized him for an Outstanding Minority Community Relations Program in 2006. Lt. Col. Hale is truly an asset to the West Virginia National Guard and his hard work and dedication are an inspiration to all. 

The Hale family story doesn't stop there. Lucille M. Campbell Hale, mother of Lt. Col. Hale, graduated in 2006 from West Virginia State University. She was the oldest African American women to graduate from the university at 85, a remarkable feat. West Virginia State University is a historically black public college. It is the smallest land grant school in the country. Back in 1891, when the school was established, it served black students in the 17 states that had segregated schools. Today, the school is heavily diversified with students from all over the country. Lucille has also left a legacy of inspiration to her family. Lt. Col. Hale is a father of seven and grandfather to eleven. The Hale family history is unforgettable and will carry on with them for generations. 

Celebrating Black History began in 1926 with the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson who was born to former slaves, according to Elissa Haney, He was a graduate from Harvard University. The celebration used to only be recognized for one week during the month of February as "Negro History Week". It came to be in February since both the gifted abolitionist and orator Fredrick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln were born that month. The two men greatly influenced the black American population. It created a significant milestone in promoting the history and contributions of African Americans to the culture. In 1976, the Bicentennial (200th birthday) of the United States, the week-long observance was extended to the entire month of February in order to have enough time for celebratory programs and activities. 

The West Virginia National Guard is proud to have a strongly diversified group of soldiers and airmen and celebrates the differences among guardsmen. Furthermore, it is no doubt that the state couldn't have a better Labor Relations and State Equal Employment Manager. Lt. Col Hale and his family are the epitome of hard work and sacrifice for race relations and treatment of equality for all.