FORT KNOX, Ky. –
On June 14th, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of the colony’s expert rifleman into the first American Continental Army. On July 4, 1776, the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain. Since its inception, the U.S. Army has relied on its people to uphold the values and traditions of freedom enshrined and ratified in the U.S. Constitution, on June 21, 1788.
The Army has seen its fair share of revolutions and transitions throughout its history while adapting to the constant change of society and technology. Where once the Army was segregated, powerful leaders like retired Maj. Gen. Vance Coleman, a former commanding general for the 84th Training Command, fought tirelessly for diversity, equal rights and the desegregation of the military.
Military leaders like retired Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith, the highest ranking openly gay officer, who remained visible and became a beacon for those in the LGBT communities shortly after the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”.
Soldiers demonstrating perseverance in the face of adversity like Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, who was the first female Army Reserve Soldier to graduate from the Army's Ranger School.
Today’s Army and Army Reserve is a diversified force representative of centuries of hard-fought battles on and off the field and the call to service for one family has been enduring with origins dating back to the Civil War.
Master Sgt. Elginette Powell, the assistant operations non-commissioned officer-in-charge with the 87th Training Division, joined the Army on November 1988. Her desire and commitment to the uniform stems from a long family tradition and history of service.
“As an American, my family has faced racism and prejudices throughout our lifetime,” said Powell. “Serving was one of the ways my family has dealt with it to ensure we solidified our right to live and exist in America.”
Powell is no stranger to prejudice and has dedicated herself to promoting and advocating for equal opportunity her entire career.
The Powell family service began back in the Civil War with her Great-Great-Grandfather Henry Davis joining the Union Army’s 9th Alabama Infantry Regiment to fight for the abolition of slavery.
“My father and several family members before him served and we continued the tradition of changing the thought process in America through our actions and service to our country,” said Powell. “My great-great-grandfather Henry H. Davis understood the importance of fighting for freedom so his children could someday grow up in a society that believed in life and liberty for all.”
Family service continued with the draft of her great-grandfather Theodore Davis, who served as a cook with the 6th Company, 165th Depot Brigade during World War II.
Her uncle, Sgt. 1st Class Anderson Thomas, served in the Vietnam War and her father, Capt. Elgin Davis, served in Operation Desert Storm alongside his sister, retired Lt. Col. Myra Walker and brother, retired Lt. Col. Fredrick Walker.
Powell’s early days of service had numerous sources of inspiration and the first of three major highlights was her encounter with retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michelle Jones, who was the first Black female command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Reserve.
“She was the first African-American, Black woman I saw in a position of command who was out in front,” said Powell. “She was willing to speak to Soldiers and encourage growth and encouraged me to do my best and excel.”
Powell’s second encounter, a specialist at the time, was with her aunt, Capt. Deandra Buggs-now retired major, during her unit’s pre-deployment exercise.
“I screamed out ‘Auntie’ and ran from the car to give her a big hug,” said Powell. “She admonished me of course, but then let me continue my hugging which gave me a welcome feeling seeing family as I prepared for deployment.”
Powell has continued her family tradition of selfless service by taking opportunities to serve her community as well.
“I was the guest speaker for Women’s Veterans Day in November 2019,” said Powell. “I also mentor a group of young ladies called the Amicettes, who are willing to strive toward the high ideals of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and demonstrate potential for leadership in service to the community.”
“I was invited to the event to speak to the young ladies about being a woman in uniform and provide them encouragement on striving for their goals,” said Powell. “I spoke to the girls about how you can be girly, beautiful, bold, strong, relaxed or whatever in any career field they wanted as long as they had God first, passion in their heart and were resilient.”
Powell notes her own experiences with the Amicettes and how it helped her.
“I absolutely love working with these ladies and continue to support when I have the time as I am a member of the Zeta Phi Beta myself,” said Powell. “One of its members, Ms. Opal Lee, was recently recognized nationally as the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ and advocated for years for its recognition as a federal holiday.”
From cousins to uncles, aunts and great ancestors, Powell’s family dedicated their lives to the U.S. Army and Army Reserve leaving a legacy of service adding to a distinct culture and heritage of military pride.