Leadership combined with guidance is often the key to success. Nowhere does that ring truer than in the military. That guidance though can come in many forms. In this edition of our series, ‘Facing the Rising Sun: Profiles of Black History,’ Brian Dwyer takes us to Fort Drum where one man is helping soldiers and families understand their place in history and helping them as they make it themselves.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. — He’s been awarded service medals, achievements medals, commendation medals, the Bronze Star.
Major James Key, the chaplain for Fort Drum’s 10th Sustainment Brigade is making an amazing difference in the lives of those protecting us.
“We’re with soldiers as they kind of go through the circle of life. Family issues, we’re there to be there for the difficult times and also there for the good times,” Major Key said.
Key, born in South Central Los Angeles, isn’t the first African-American chaplain in the Army or even on Fort Drum. But with every decision he makes or piece of advice he offers, he thinks about the person that was.
Henry Plummer, born in 1844, escaped a life of slavery. He made his way to Washington and would eventually join the Navy. He would later apply to become an Army Chaplain.
“Interestingly enough he receives a recommendation letter from Frederick Douglass, who certainly was one who fought on behalf of African American people in that time period,” Major Key said.
Plummer would be assigned to an all African-American unit known as Buffalo Soldiers. But a short time later he was wrongly charged with ‘conduct unbecoming of an officer’ related to a fellow soldier’s promotion party.
It was a charge he was found guilty of but fought every day until he died in 1905. A fight his family assumed for 100 more years when the Army finally reversed its decision.
“I think about Henry Plummer and I realize that it’s his shoulders that I’m standing on. The responsibility is great and the commitment must be consistent,” Major Key said.
A commitment to not only African-American soldiers but all military members no matter their race.
From the Buffalo soldiers to the Tuskegee Airmen to the men and women of today, equality hasn’t been easy and there are still challenges, but Chaplain Key sees the progress.
“Our soldiers have learned that when you’re on the battlefield, the only thing that matters is the uniform and the flag. One fight, one team,” Major Key said.
An inspiration Key shares with every single person he meets either on the battlefield or this room on Sundays.
“Muhammad Ali said it best. He said if you’re, if a person who’s 50 is the same person he or she was at 30, then they’ve wasted 20 years of their life,” Key said.