Seventy-five years ago, President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the U.S. military. At long last, a nation founded on the idea that “all men are created equal” decreed “equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense.”

Executive Order 9981 sent a clear message that Black service members were equal enough to fight and die alongside their white counterparts in war. As two Black Army veterans who serve, respectively, as Maryland’s Governor and Secretary of Veterans Affairs, we believe state and national leaders should honor Truman’s legacy by creating more opportunities for people to engage in public service hand-in-hand with their fellow Americans.

Service — and serving on diverse teams — builds stronger citizens, communities, and countries. We know this because we’ve experienced the transformative power of service personally, and we want to encourage more Americans to serve.

Both of us were raised by single Black mothers who sacrificed a great deal for our futures. The military was our pathway to a quality education that opened doors that we never even knew existed as teenagers.

Through our deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, we came to understand that trust was key to survival in combat. We needed the people we led to believe in us — and we needed them to believe in each other.

At the beginning, we were challenged to overcome our differences with those in our units. The people in our units hailed from different parts of the country, representing every race, religion, and political ideology.

Soon, though, the demands of surviving in combat began to make our differences seem trivial relative to the challenges we faced. We developed deep bonds with people whose experiences were vastly different from our own and came to love one another as family. We learned that diversity is our strength.

These experiences were only possible in an integrated military. Our lives and the lives of our fellow soldiers were transformed by the values the military instilled in us. These values now guide our work here in Maryland.

That’s why we’ve spent our first six months in office enacting the nation’s leading “pro-service agenda” — honoring the sacrifice of veterans, servicemembers, and their families, as well as creating new pathways for Marylanders to serve right here at home.

We became the first state to pass the Healthcare for Heroes Act, providing access to free health and dental care for members of the Maryland National Guard.

We enacted the Keep our Heroes Home Act, increasing the tax exemption on military retirement pay.

We’ve also created an opportunity, through the SERVE Act, for young Marylanders to volunteer and receive scholarships toward their college educations.

We’re doing this because we, like President Truman, believe public service is the bedrock of a more perfect union. Desegregation created pathways for more people — people like us — to contribute to the cause of the nation, and it’s time for today’s leaders to honor people who serve and create more opportunities for Americans to do so.

A pro-service agenda — encouraging military or civilian service — will forge the next generation of leaders and lay the foundation for a brighter American future.

Gov. Wes Moore is the 63rd governor of the state of Maryland and the state’s first Black governor. He is an Army veteran. Anthony C. Woods is Maryland’s secretary of Veterans Affairs. He is an Army veteran.

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