Va. Guard hosts Unity Day event to recognize diversity

Soldiers, Airmen and senior leaders come together for the inaugural Unity Day Event, April 26, 2017, hosted by the Virginia National Guard's Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Equal Opportunity Office at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

Soldiers, Airmen and senior leaders come together for the inaugural Unity Day Event, April 26, 2017, hosted by the Virginia National Guard’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Equal Opportunity Office at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

SANDSTON, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers, Airmen and senior leaders joined members of the Virginia Defense Force April 26, 2017, for Unity Day, hosted by the Virginia National Guard’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and Equal Opportunity Office at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. The event, in its inaugural year, aimed to recognize and celebrate the diversity of the Soldiers, Airmen, civilians and VDF members who make up the Virginia National Guard.

“We’re very, very fortunate here. We serve our country and our commonwealth and it doesn’t get better than that. And the stories that we heard here today just underscores why it’s so important that we do this,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, at the event. “Every day we’re making advancements and we’re taking the fight to where it needs to go.”

The event kicked off with a food tasting that included traditional Hispanic, Asian and Latin American cuisine and was followed by a brief program from two guest speakers.

Lt. Col. (Va.) Mike Lovitt, of the Virginia Defense Force, delivers his remarks at the inaugural Unity Day Event, held April 26, 2017, at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

Lt. Col. (Va.) Mike Lovitt, of the Virginia Defense Force, delivers his remarks at the inaugural Unity Day Event, held April 26, 2017, at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

Lt. Col. (Va.) Mike Lovitt, of the Virginia Defense Force, spoke first. Lovitt served in the U.S. Army for 25 years until he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2004. He began his remarks by talking about how he came to be in the VDF, explaining that he met a young woman at one of his Chick-fil-A restaurants who was behaving in a “very military way,” and who proudly told him she was a member of the Virginia Defense Force.

“I’m like a lot of those people that were in the military at one time and who got out and who wanted to maintain some link with the military,” Lovitt explained. “I chose the VDF.”

Lovitt grew up as the child of a Marine, mostly living in Marine Corps communities like Camp Lejeune and Quantico. “There was nothing I wanted more than to be a cub scout,” Lovitt said. He remembered the day the scout leader came to his house and explained how we was filled with excitement. The scout leader came into the house and asked Lovitt’s father to send him to the back room, where he stuck his ear as close to the door as could. “I’ll never forget the words he uttered and they’re as painful today as they were then,” Lovitt explained. The cub scout leader told Lovitt’s father, “Your son cannot be a cub scout because he’s colored.”

Lovitt explained the event as a life changing moment for him, although not the last one of its kind. Later he wanted to baseball pitcher in the local youth league, but said, “I could not be a pitcher because of the color of my skin.” While he succeeded academically in high school, laws at the time said a black person could not have an academic designation on their diploma, regardless of their success.

“I don’t tell you this to garner any sympathy,” Lovitt said to the crowd. “It’s simply the way things were then.”

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, provides remarks at the inaugural Unity Day Event, held April 26, 2017, at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, provides remarks at the inaugural Unity Day Event, held April 26, 2017, at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

Lovitt finished his remarks by reminding the mostly-military audience that, “The citizens of this country expect more from us and that’s why they thank us so much.”

Chaplain (Maj.) Seung Lee, of the Virginia Army National Guard, followed Lovitt, explaining how his life has been a series of “unexpected circumstances,”

“I immigrated to the United States in 1977 when I was just about two and a half years old,” Seung explained. “What I remember about that is basically coming to the United States at that age and just crying on the plane. That’s the only memory I have of coming to America.”

Seung explained how he has asked his parents to fill in the blanks, to explain why they choose to come to the United States. He said his parents, while successful in Korea, felt that Seung and his siblings would never be able to make it in Korea, would never be able to go to college, or lead successful lives, so they sold their business and came to the U.S. with just $400.

“My education was a bunch of unexpected circumstances. I never expected to go to college,” Seung said. But, through some high school connections, he was able to get entry into the Virginia Military Institute and later went to George Mason University when he finally graduated.

“Life in here is full of unexpected circumstances,” Seung explained after telling the crowd about his winding career path.

Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora closed the event saying, “I just want to thank each and everyone of you for coming out today to celebrate Unity Day with us.”

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Photos: Va. Guard hosts inaugural Unity Day – April 26, 2017