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Warriors of the North observe National Day of Prayer

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by Staff Sgt. Susan L. Davis
319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

5/11/2015 - GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. – The Warriors of the North took some time out of their day May 7, 2015, to observe the National Day of Prayer, an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked to “turn to God in prayer and meditation.” Each year since its inception, the president has signed a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.

The keynote speaker for this year’s event here was retired U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler. Morgenthaler was one of the first 10 women to receive a four-year Army ROTC scholarship, as well as one of the first female military intelligence officers to train alongside men. She was the first female military intelligence company commander to serve along the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea.

Her comments centered around racial and gender equality in the military. Morgenthaler, the daughter of a Marine officer stationed at Quantico, Va., opened by recounting her teenage years in the late 1960s, the social and economic upheaval of the time, and one of her favorite quotes from a prominent civil rights figure.

“As we watched the news in 1968, it was a very violent time for our nation,” she said. “Every night on the news, we saw the Vietnam War and its violence. We saw the violence against the peace protestors. And we saw the violence against the Civil Rights Movement. Fourteen years old, I could’ve turned into a very jaded, cynical teenager, but fortunately there was one leader who came on television, and I felt like he came into my living room. He’s one of the few people who often spoke of hope, and that was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

She invoked Dr. King’s famous quote, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity,” as one of her favorites, and one that had a profound influence on her as a leader and military officer.

She explained about how her father was deployed to Vietnam during that conflict in 1969, and she, her mother and her three siblings left their home in the South for New England in his absence, where she first experienced exclusion and prejudice.

“We moved into this town with our Southern accents, and we were treated like we were stupid, ignorant trash,” she said. “That was a terrible year. My father gone, all this prejudice we had to endure, but I look back and that year made me a far better leader. I now knew what exclusion meant, and I was going to be a leader that did not exclude.”

In 1972, the Reserve Officer Training Corps Program was experimentally opened up to women at 10 universities in the United States, women were being integrated into the regular service, and Morgenthaler enthusiastically signed up.

During her junior year in 1975, Morgenthaler participated in officer boot camp at Fort Bragg, N.C. She had a candid conversation with her father the night before she left.
“He said to me, ‘Jilly-Bear, they don’t want you. They’re going to come after you with a vengeance. They’re going to try to break you down, make you cry, they want you to quit.’”

Men in the military in those days, she explained, did not welcome women with open arms.

“They thought in those days that if they allowed women into the military as equals, it would make the military weak, and then the Communists would take over,” she said.

Morgenthaler arrived to Fort Bragg in a class of 83 female cadets and 500 male cadets on a post of 50,000 men, where she and the other female cadets were routinely verbally harassed by their male counterparts.

She spoke highly of her drill sergeant there, an Army staff sergeant, an African-American man who had grown up in the South and joined the Army to escape poverty.

He had performed so well in Vietnam that he had received a direct battlefield commission to captain. Following the end of the war, he was forced to make a choice between leaving the Army as a captain, or staying in and being demoted back to E-6.

“He took the demotion,” she said. “He loved the military that much.”

Her drill sergeant told her frankly that when she became an officer the following year, it would be her job to watch out for all of her Soldiers, regardless of their background.

Morgenthaler spent much of her nearly 30-year-long Army career fighting for equality in the military regardless of a member’s race, gender, or even sexual preference.

In Germany, long before “Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell,” Morgenthaler was the executive officer of a headquarters company. She had three NCOs who worked for her at the time.

“Fabulous sergeants,” she said. “They did have three strikes against them, though; they were women, they were African-American, and I’ll get to the third strike in a minute.”

She explained that she and her team were frequently recognized for their work, and at the end of the day they would often gather in her office and talk, sometimes about the comings and goings of the unit, other times just casually.

One night, though, the three sergeants brought it to Morgenthaler’s attention that they were being investigated for homosexual conduct. And the rumors were true.

“Strike three,” she said. “The problem was, these ladies didn’t realize what a quandary they had put me in. I had already been instructed by my O-6 to hunt down homosexuals in the unit and kick them out.”

She said she looked up the regulation about homosexuality, and found that anyone convicted of homosexuality during that time could be forced out, charged with a felony, lose their G.I. Bill, serve prison time, and/or never hold a federal job.

“I did the wrong thing, and I did the right thing,” she said. “I did the wrong thing by ignoring the commander’s orders. And I did the right thing by opening up the law book and showing these women exactly what the military had to say about them. The three stayed in and they did great things for America. Today I’m thrilled that we can all serve honestly and honorably. And that happened because we had the conversation.”

“You all have the power,” she said. “You all are part of the greatest power in the world. You have the power to watch out for everyone. You have the power to have the conversation. And look what’s happening to our nation right now. We should not only remember the words of Martin Luther King, we should act upon them. ‘Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.’ Let the conversations begin.”


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