Lt. Col.: Buffalo Soldiers serve proudly in Iraq
Lt. Col. Reginald Allen
The Buffalo Soldiers, the U.S. Army's once segregated units, on duty in Iraq. CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh reports (January 7)
Activated on July 28, 1866
Formed by black volunteers composed of freed salves, Civil War vets
1869, helped establish Fort Sill, Oklahoma
1880, defeated Chief Victorio's band of Commanches
1885, defeated Geronimo's Apaches
1898, accompanied Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill
1913, assisted in the expedition against Pancho Villa
Source: First Squadron, 10th Cavalry
TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- The Buffalo Soldiers are best known as a black U.S. cavalry unit that served bravely in the Wild West after the Civil War.
Today the First Squadron, 10th Cavalry, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, is considered among the most highly mobile unit in the U.S. Army.
For most of its existence, the Buffalo Soldiers were a unit of black soldiers commanded by white officers.
Today the now-integrated unit is led by Lt. Col. Reginald Allen, the first African-American to command the Buffalo Soldiers in combat.
Allen's first mission was to secure the porous Iran-Iraq border and keep foreign fighters and Iranian influence out of Iraq.
While other forces have settled into Saddam Hussein's palaces, the Buffalo Soldiers have moved some 16 times within Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition invasion of that country.
"We go where we're told and we'll win when we fight," Allen says.
The unit was packing up camp east of Tikrit when Allen spoke with CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VAN MARSH: What should people know about the Buffalo Soldiers?
ALLEN: The incredible thing about the Buffalo Soldiers, especially those who served early on, is that they loved this country enough that through the racism, through the bigotry, they still wanted to serve.
They wanted to better themselves and serve the nation. They served with less than the best equipment and less than the best provisions at the farthest and most remote outposts in the United States. They served with pride and honor and professionalism. That is absolutely no different than what the Buffalo Soldiers today are doing.
VAN MARSH: Did you want to head the 1-10 Cavalry?
ALLEN: Yes. It was high on my preference list.
VAN MARSH: Why?
ALLEN: The squadron has a great history. It was formed as a Negro regiment in 1866 with white officers and I thought it would be kind of neat for a black officer to command that organization.
VAN MARSH: It's often said the cavalry is the first to arrive.
ALLEN: Cavalry, in general, leads other forces into combat. In the case of 10th Cavalry, they lead the [U.S. Army] 4th Infantry Division north from Baghdad.
Our mission is to screen ... find were the enemy is and either destroy it if it is within our capability, or pass through heavier forces to destroy it.
VAN MARSH: Is there particular significance that there is now an African-American leading what used to be a segregated unit?
ALLEN: It is a point of pride for me to be able to command the Buffalo Soldiers in general, regardless of the fact that it was formed as a Negro regiment with all-white officers and to be, if not the first black commander, surely the first black commander to command the unit in combat.
VAN MARSH: Why should people care any more or any less about the Buffalo Soldiers than any other unit?
ALLEN: They shouldn't. Every soldier here is important. And every unit here contributed to the success of what is going on in Iraq. As far as caring more, they shouldn't. We're just soldiers doing our job. We'll do it as best we can, as long as we can, until it is time for us to go home to our families.
VAN MARSH: You have a baby daughter. When she's old enough to understand, what will you tell her about this command?
ALLEN: That's a good question ... This particular command took Daddy away from his daughter. She was 8 days old when I deployed to come here. Hopefully, I'll get back before she's a year old. That'd be nice. I'd just tell her that this is what Daddy does.