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Juneteeth: Mutual respect and meaningful conversations

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Noah Tancer
  • 378th Air Expeditionary Wing

The U.S. Airmen and Soldiers on Prince Sultan Air Base held a variety of events in celebration of Juneteenth, June 19, 2022.

The day began with a Juneteenth Freedom Day 5K Run, held by the 378th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron. In the afternoon the 378th Expeditionary Medical Squadron held a Juneteenth Outreach and Dessert Social and the USO of Saudi Arabia hosted an educational Juneteenth Bingo.

The day of honor and reflection ended with a Juneteenth Ceremony put together by a team of black service members from across PSAB’s many squadrons and task forces.

Key speakers for the ceremony were Brig. Gen. William Betts, commander of the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing, Lt. Col. Countess Cooper, a chaplain with the 378th AEW, and Chief Master Sgt. Jessica McWain, the command chief of the 378th AEW.

“Our past president Barack Obama said Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or acceptance of the way things are,” said Betts. “It is a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible and there is still so much work to do.”

The ceremony began with a powerful scene-setting speech about what Juneteenth means conducted by Cooper. “Today we stand here together black, white, male, female, gay, straight, contractor and military,” Cooper began. “We stand here together better than what we would have been if we were standing alone. We are Americans! Our history can be short-sighted and ill-informed at times, but we stand on the right side of history here today. What we’re doing is dismantling the negative narrative of history and creating new and shared stories that tell of new beginnings.”

During the ceremony, a Juneteenth video put together by the event organizers was shown and a T-Wall bearing the words “Freedom For Every Generation,” was unveiled and signed by attendees to forever mark PSAB’s mission of diversity and inclusion.

“Today I ask you to acknowledge the past and feel its weight,” said McWain. “See the present and decide what is possible so that together we can mold our future. Change will come, fear will come and challenge will come. But faith, courage, action and that light inside burning so brightly that it blinds out the fear and it serves as a beacon to those seeking a united future, can indeed together overcome.”

Brig. Gen. Betts declared that it would be an objective of the 378th AEW to make rapid strides in the progress of diversity and inclusion on PSAB before the next holiday in celebration of American freedom which is the Fourth of July. To accomplish this, he asked each service member to talk with at least one other Airmen of a different race, upbringing or background, and ask what Juneteenth and freedom means to them.

“PSAB just so happens to be used to rapid progress,” said Betts. “One week you look around and you see so much opportunity to improve and then you look again the next week and you can see the landscape has improved right before your eyes.”

The social landscape at PSAB has many similarities to the physical one. Sometimes it looks barren, rocky and dusty, but like the physical landscape, service members can either look at it with despair; at all the work that needs to be done, or can see that it is ripe for opportunities.

“Mutual respect and meaningful conversations are the vehicles we will use,” said Betts finishing his speech with, “and this ladies and gentlemen is how we PSAB.”