By Jena Calvitti
In observance of Black History Month, we want to honor the achievements that Black Americans have made within the military community. For more than 200 years, Black Americans have contributed to the many successes and advancements of each branch of the U.S. military. Today, we celebrate one individual who has tackled adversity head-on and built a successful career in the U.S. Air Force.
For many years, prior to joining the Air Force, Master Sgt. Colton Casteele drove past McChord Air Force Base, Washington, on his way to college. After un-enrolling from his studies and fueled with inspiration from his father’s service during the Vietnam War, he decided to meet with an Air Force recruiter. Little did Colton know that day 14 years ago would change his life forever.
Now the section chief for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Operations and Training at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County Maryland, Colton claims joining the Air Force was one of the best decisions he has made.
“Serving in the Air Force is profound … it’s something that’s larger than myself.”
Service is familiar to the Casteele family. Colton’s father, Dr. John L. Casteele Jr., is a retired Army master sergeant., and his brother, Staff Sgt. Gordon Casteele is an Air Force medical technician currently stationed at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath in England.
Every day, Colton is leading airmen from diverse backgrounds and cultures, something that is a celebrated difference within the legacy of service in the Casteele family. Colton’s father did not have diversity celebrated so openly during his time in the Army. Joining shortly after the Civil Rights Movement, his father faced adversity due to the color of his skin.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements and recognize the struggles of the Black community. Colton believes that Black History Month “serves as a reminder of the progress we’ve made and the journey ahead in achieving equality and justice for everyone; the military is a great example of diversity, and giving anyone an opportunity to serve as long as they meet standards.”
Joining the military takes courage and becoming a highly specialized EOD Technician requires nerves of steel. Joining the elite EOD career field doesn’t come easy, and Colton experienced this firsthand.
“EOD school is one of the most academically challenging schools in the Department of Defense” shared Colton.
Colton was no exception to the academic challenge of EOD school. He failed the first test of EOD school not once, but twice. Luckily for Colton, Chief Master Sgt. Frank Pulice, EOD Career Field Manager, was on his academic review board, and gave Colton the advice and guidance that led to a successful third attempt. The EOD’s motto is “Initial success or total failure,” but Colton’s is the opposite: “Initial failure and then total success” he says. From the start of his career, he faced adversity head-on and kept pushing forward toward success.
Colton says that EOD taught him “the value of adaptability and resilience, and not to just take a hit, but to learn from it, learn how to abate it and keep pressing forward.” He knows that change, adversity and challenges all begin with process. His advice to others is to “embrace change with an open mind, view challenges as opportunities to grow and strengthen yourself and if you ever have the opportunity to be part of the change, you should always take it.”
Colton has come across few Black airmen in his 14 years of service. He had his first Black supervisor in his most recent assignment at RAF Lakenheath in 2021, and that was the first time in his career there was another Black airman in his EOD flight. Colton saw this lack of representation as an excellent opportunity to connect Black airmen in the EOD career field. He created a Facebook group for people to connect, find mentors and share experiences.
Reflecting on his career, Colton said, “there were times that weren’t made easy by some people, but luckily for me, those individuals are outliers, and I was supported by mentors who had an enlightened mindset.”
Colton has made a lasting impact on the EOD career field and continues to serve as a role model and inspiration to Black airmen.
A Tuskegee Airman Shares His Past Experience With the USO
For over 80 years, the USO has served all service members in the U.S. military, regardless of race.
Because the USO was founded before the U.S. Armed Forces were officially integrated, the organization found itself amid the complex and daunting realities of both racial segregation and World War II – all while supporting the people who served in our nation’s military.
One of those service members, Air Force Lt. Col. Enoch “Woody” Woodhouse, who is also one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, shared his experiences with the segregation and racism he experienced while serving his country during the Second World War. Woody describes the USO as one of the few places that he could turn to during his service where there was no segregation.
“It was America: Black [and] white mixed,” he said. “If you were in uniform … you were welcomed.”
Despite the challenging circumstances, the USO always found ways to welcome and serve the men and women in uniform – including the one million Black service members who served during World War II.
-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited and expanded for USO.org
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