By Cadence Russell, Online Media Manager
On November 17th at 7:00 pm in the Alumni Lounge, the Black Student Union (BSU) held its second annual Salute to Your Service Awards, recognizing the unique challenges and journeys of Black service men and women.
“Support comes from within, you got to support your own,” Crystal Buchanan, president of the BSU and junior history and political science major said. “I believe that we should just always show that appreciation because we don’t know if they’re getting it anywhere else. Like they said they said their stories that it’s not always there. So just making sure that they know that we appreciate them. Any amount of support is free, so just gotta give the support where it’s needed.”
There were four service men and women honored at the event: Service Airman Richard Pete, Staff Sargent Dr. Kanasha Blue, Technical Sargent Capresha Gilbert, and Sargent Orlando Dickson.
Each of the honorees was given a glass awarded in recognition of their service and then sat on a panel to answer questions about their time in the military and their experiences. The honorees belonged to the Air Force and Army branches, with some like Dickson serving from 2006-2015 in active combat, and others like Gilbert serving as a personal technician, running things like deployments behind the scenes.
The questions posed created an easy atmosphere, with each service person sharing their most memorable moments, their challenges, and how their service affected them.
Blue remembers fondly the first time she was put in charge while deployed as a cook in the Army. Every single day she was responsible for organizing three meals for 3,000 soldiers, no easy feat, and she recalls how it changed her from being 17 years old to an adult woman.
“It will change you as a person,” Blue said.
Dickson recalled the time he was chosen to attend the Advanced Leadership School, a high honor, but where everyone was two levels above him. His boss did not think he’d perform well and sent him, an effort to see him fail. Dickson instead was a distinguished honor graduate.
But these moments were not without challenges. For Pete, he was one of 3 Black men in his unit, where his performance was scrutinized more heavily than his white counterparts. In a moment Pete shared, there was a time he’d been approved for leave, but got it taken away due to rumors, without even hearing his side.
For Gilbert, she sees it happening right now. Her unit is made up of services and personalists, where personalists are white-dominated. Gilbert has seen how, despite being in the same unit, services, which is black-dominated, don’t get the same opportunities as her section, the personalists. She works to share the opportunities with the whole of her unit so that other Black service men and women can succeed.
“If you know someone going into the military thinking about it, it’s a great thing to do. We don’t want you to have rose-colored glasses. We want you to have a raw, real uncut knowledge base from which to draw from and we want to share our experiences with you so that you know hey, it can be very good, but it can also be very tumultuous,” Mark Overall, president of the Buffalo Urban Leauge of Young Professionals who co-hosted the event said.
“If you want to be in the military, you need a reason, you need a solid reason,” Dickson said.
All the honorees shared Dickson’s words of advice and agreed that they met the best people they know in the military and founded the deepest relationship bonds.
The event was created by Overall in collaboration with the BSU to change the narrative into what a veteran looks like. Overall mentions how the media’s perception is elderly people in a wheelchair waving, but that’s not the total truth about veterans.
“I know people who did tours in Afghanistan tours in Iraq. I know people that still go to therapy for PTSD,” Overall said. “I know people that had to see friends and colleagues having limbs blown off. I know people that had to transition, had very tough transitions back into civilian life after serving and I said, I want to highlight them. I want to have their voices elevated and I want people to know their stories.”