FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Buffalo soldiers. They're sometimes called America's "forgotten" military heroes. And while their history may not be well known, their legacy has left a lasting imprint on this country.
If you're looking for a picture to match the military's "Army Strong" motto, look no further than Fort Huachuca.
Whether training soldiers, defending against cyber attacks, or testing unmanned aerial systems, Fort Huachuca displays the spirit of America's military might.
Tucked away at the base of the Huachuca Mountains in the Southeast Arizona desert, the post includes a chapter that cements its place in U.S. history.
It's a chapter that centers on a band of black troops called the Buffalo Soldiers.
Slaves to Soldiers
"They're obviously a very important chapter of our black history," Tanja Linton, with Fort Huachuca's Office of Public Affairs, said. "But more importantly, they're a part of our American history."
After the Civil War, Congress established several all-black regiments to build up America's peacetime forces.
Their primary mission was to fight and escort Native American tribes to reservations and to explore, map, and defend regions of the western frontier.
One volunteer group of retired troops travels around the Washington, D.C. area sharing the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. Take a look at the 9th and 10th Calvary in action by clicking the video below.
Because they fought with valor, rival Native Americans compared them to buffalo, which they considered a sacred animal.
From the Indian Wars to Korean conflict, Buffalo Soldiers filtered through Fort Huachuca, the only place where all four historic regiments served tours of duty.
Today, almost anywhere you turn the military site serves as a reminder of the their legacy. Whether it's a street name, a plaza, or the fort's museum, their story is being told.
Retired U.S. Army veterans Thomas Stoney and Harlan Bradford revisit their old post often to give public tours and to share the history of Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Huachuca.
Donning replicas of the Buffalo Soldier uniform, they pay homage to those heroes and question how they managed to fight for a country where they were denied equal rights.
"I wonder if I could have soldiered like that … knowing when I get back and go to town, I'm not going to be welcomed by the people I'm protecting," Bradford said.
In an answer to his own question, the retired sergeant major replied, "There's something spiritual in there."
'Spiritual Steel and Concrete'
Chaplain Louis A. Carter, the only black chaplain to serve with all four historic black regiments, played a vital role in the spiritual lives of Buffalo Soldiers.
Col. Carter helped his men become professional soldiers by instituting literacy programs, a debate club, and making sure each soldier sent a letter home in time for Mother's Day.
Seventy years after Carter's death, Fort Huachuca has another black garrison chaplain: Col. Ken Revell.
Revell said he's grateful to pioneers, like Carter, who paved a path for him to answer his ministry and military calling.
"Our mission is really to pour spiritual steel and concrete within our soldiers," he said.
Revell said he believes chaplains continue to be a forceful presence, especially as the military braces for major budget cuts, winds down from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deals with the physical, emotional, and spiritual after effects of more than 10 years of fighting.
He summed up their duty in three objectives: "To nurture the living, care for the wounded, and to honor the fallen."
"If a chaplain can get at those three things, and it takes a great deal of prayer, he will be a long way into helping the kingdom of God to come to people and a long way to bringing soldiers to God and God to soldiers," Revell said.
Modern-day trailblazers, like Brig. Gen. Frederick Henry, know that it wouldn't be possible to rise through the ranks if not for the former slaves who became soldiers. He's also quick to point out that those soldiers didn't do it alone.
"If it were not for President Harry S. Truman, and if it were not for the desegregation of the Armed Forces, my opportunities may have never come to fruition," Henry said.
The Legacy Lives On
Today's Army, and the military community at large, mirror society in a way the first Buffalo Soldiers might have never imagined.
Currently, there are more than 240,000 black Americans who comprise about 17 percent of the Army's total population. About 10,000 are officers.
Despite generations of change, some things remain the same -- like the commitment to serve. It's reflected each day on the battlefield and on the home front.
At the close of each day, a select group of Fort Huachuca soldiers lowers the flag with precision and care.
The solemn ritual demonstrates how today's U.S. Army and the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers are wrapped together in the fabric of America, telling a story of patriotism, courage, and honor.