Gen. Roosevelt Barfield

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas. I’m your co-host, Deb Bisel and we’re at
the Plaza of the Flags here at the Great Overland Station in historical
NOTO, North Topeka, and this veteran’s memorial is a very fitting place to
visit with General, retired now, Roosevelt Barfield. General Barfield is
with us because he is the representative for the first Kansas Colored who’s
being inducted into the Kansas Hall of Fame in 2013 and, so, it’s wonderful t
o talk with you about what that legacy means to you and it’s so wonderful to
have you back in Kansas and please stay tuned. We’ll be right back.

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The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas. I’m your co-host, Deb Bisel and we’re at
the Plaza of the Flags here at the Great Overland Station in historical
NOTO, North Topeka, and this veteran’s memorial is a very fitting place to
visit with General, retired now, Roosevelt Barfield. Welcome back to
Kansas. (Male) Thank you very much and it’s absolutely a pleasure to be
back and Kansas is my home and it’s always great to be back in the land of
the Jayhawks. (Deb) All right. Rock Chalk. General Barfield is with us
because he is the representative for the first Kansas Colored who’s being
inducted into the Kansas Hall of Fame in 2013 and, so, it’s wonderful to
talk with you about what that legacy means to you. (Male) Well first, you
know, the old saying that in order for there to be others, there has to be
a first. Well the first Kansas Colored Infantry is the embodiment of that
saying. They called themselves the first. You know they provided that
legacy, that level of inspiration so that people of color, like myself, and
others who are willing to serve their country, can overcome odds and
adversity and do something that is bigger than themselves. (Deb) When you
were growing up in Kansas, and you grew up in Olathe, is that right?
(Male) No I grew up in Lawrence. We moved here to Kansas in 1971 from
Mississippi, so I grew up in Lawrence and went to Lawrence High School and
went to the University of Kansas, but Kansas is really my second hometown.
(Deb) When you were growing up in Kansas, did you aspire to be in the
military? (Male) Well actually it’s sort of a funny story. Absolutely not.
Because I’m a big war movie buff and I love watching those films, but
I always said, I would never go do that ever, but a friend of mine, he
was my junior high, teenage friend growing up, he decided he was gonna
go join the military and I’ll always kind of be his protector, so I said,
You know what, I can’t let you go there by yourself, buddy, so I’m gonna
go with you, and unfortunately, well fortunately, thirty-three years later,
I finally decided to retire, but it was never my intention to ever, not just
be in the military, but never, never in my wildest imagination would I have
thought that I would spend thirty-three years in uniform. (Deb) So when
did you join the Army? (Male) I joined the Kansas National Guard, the Army
National Guard. I went to active duty and joined in 1977, I joined the
Kansas National Guard the junior year of my high school, wasn’t able to go
to basic training until after I graduated, but I was actually a member of
the Guard when I was seventeen years old. Two days after graduation, I was
on an airplane in New Jersey to go to basic training for one of the most,
not enlightening, but definitely one of the most interesting experiences of my
life. I still remember my basic training vividly, even today. I remember
every single word that was given to me, every single command, every order I
was given. I know all of my Drill Sergeants. I still remember those things
because it was a life changing event for me.

(Male) You know discipline was big in my family, but this was a different
kind of discipline. This was a life discipline that we went through in the
military and it gave you an opportunity to look at things from a bigger
perspective. I joined the active duty life in 1981. My first assignment was
at Fort Leavenworth and then, of course, you know, I started out as
an enlisted person. I never had aspirations of being an officer, but then
after about four years seeing some of the folks who were in charge of me, I
said, You know what, I can do that. I can probably do that better, and
sure enough, I think I did well. I progressed to every single rank, either
on time or ahead of time. I was the youngest General, youngest officer
promoted to General in recent history, notwithstanding the Civil War.
(Deb) Not withstanding General Custer, that other thing. (Male)
But I’m pretty proud of my accomplishment, but more important,
I was pretty proud of what I was able to do, not just for my country,
because I was able to serve my country both in peacetime and in war, but able
to influence lives and that’s important. (Deb) I hope that our viewers
realize what an incredible thing it is to rise from the ranks of an
enlisted man to reach General. That just does not happen very often.
(Male) No, it actually doesn’t. I think there’s probably maybe a handful or
five or six of Generals at the most in the entire U.S. army who have
accomplished that feat, so I don’t take it lightly. I was reminded of it
when I became a Colonel. A General once told me, he goes, You know what,
he said, You’re gonna be a General and you’re gonna follow the footsteps of
these three Generals. I’m going like I’ve got to go look these folks up,
because, you know, I just thought that this was like an unusual step. I
always, when I first became a Lieutenant, my goal was to be a General. I
know that probably sounds somewhat arrogant, but it really wasn’t because
one of the things they taught U.S. in our ROTC was, Okay, set a goal for
yourself, and my Professor of Military Science said, Well if your goal is
not to be a General, then as an officer, then I think you’re setting your
sights too low, and I said, Okay, that works for me. I’ll set that goal and
we’ll see what happens, so, and it sort of worked out.

(Deb) Well looking back over your career, talk about the impact Kansas has
had in shaping your values and your outlook. You said that your family
moved from Mississippi, do you think you would have been the same person
had you grown up and gone to high school and done all those things in
Mississippi? Or did Kansas make a difference? (Male) I think Kansas did
make a difference overall because, you know, life was extremely difficult
in Mississippi, not just from the standpoint of just economic, but from the
standpoint of opportunities. The school I went to was segregated. It didn’t
get integrated until 1975 which is astonishing to think about it when you
look at things in today’s perspective, but I was able to, we were able to
come here to get a job, to get the kind of education and as long you put in
the work, you can make success and I think that having those opportunities
is what this country is all about. You know sometimes it gets a little
difficult, but in my view, I’m not so much worried about the difficulty as
I am having the opportunities to overcome the difficulties, you know,
because in my mind, you know, I’m one of those persons that if I decided
I’m gonna do something, as long as there’s a way for me to do it, then I’ll
make it happen, but there are times, I mean, if I had been in Mississippi,
I probably would have never gotten the opportunity to even make the effort
and I’m okay with putting in the hard work. That’s never been a problem for
me, but I think, you know, those kinds of things shape my values, having
the ability to be in a leadership position while I’m going to college and
having that military training and discipline allowed me to actually learn
more and value things a lot more because you realize how hard things are
and you realize how much people take things for granted and you realize how
those few and people may think that the military’s so large, but it really
isn’t that large. I mean two point two million people out of three hundred
and sixty-five million people, that’s not a very good percentage, but these
are the folks, men and women out there who, and it’s a voluntary system
now, so it’s not like folks are being drafted. These are folks that’ll
volunteer and to put their own personal civilian lives on hold in order for
us to make sure that we maintain our country and our constitution and more
importantly, help the world. We do more than go to war, but that’s what
gets, you know, played out in our world, but the military’s more than that.
It’s more of a deterrent and sometimes if you can prevent things, it’s sort
of like the medicine, you know, if I can get an ounce of prevention better
than a pound of cure and I think the military is the epitome of that.
(Deb) Well I think there’s still a lot of opportunity too and for people of
color, for young people of color, have you been aware of the example you
have set in that respect that there are opportunities available to them if
they chose the direction of the military? (Male) Yes, you have to be aware
of it. I mean it’s almost impossible to ignore what’s in front of you. I
mean you do those things at your own parallel. Sometimes, you know, you
have to be pushed into doing the right thing. Other times, the opportunity
presents itself and you should take that lead and follow it through.
Well I’ve always taken the lead from my mother which is, you know, every
single day, you should take an opportunity to see what you can do to help
somebody and if it means that you need to sacrifice something of your own,
then that’s what you do because the world is not all about yourself.
There’s plenty of time to do things for yourself, but there’s not a whole
lot of opportunities to always do something for someone else. I try to
encourage all people of color and those folks not of color to take
advantage of every opportunity you’re given, think out of the box, go
beyond your comfort zone. That person that you refuse to speak to may be
that one person who provides you with that spark or that piece of
information so that you can succeed. Turning down information is an
absolute no, no in my book. (Deb) We’re visiting with General Roosevelt
Barfield. It’s so wonderful to have you back in Kansas and please stay
tuned. We’ll be right back.

(Male) I’m standing at Great Overland station by the first Kansas Colored
Infantry. This is one of the organizations that’s gonna be inducted into
the 2013 Laureate Class. What is important to note about the first Kansas
Colored Infantry is that the majority of the persons listed in this
regiment were escaped slaves or from Missouri and a few other states. They
were the actual first colored infantry to be mustered into a unit and the
first one to be actually put on active duty in the U.S. Army, contrary to
popular believe with the fifty-forth. It was the first Kansas, but what is
so noteworthy about the first Kansas is the fact that with the fifty-forth,
most of those were freed slaves and folks who bought their freedom and they
were actually considered citizens while they were still in uniform. The
first Kansas wasn’t. They fought that fifteen, sixteen months, campaigned
for the idea of being free. I don’t know whether folks would have the level
of courage and test to fight for an ideal, but if you look at our history,
the U.S. constitution, it is an ideal, so the first Kansas actually is an
extreme example of that ideal of freedom, fighting for something bigger
than yourself. These soldiers fought for the idea of being free and being a
part of something bigger than them and that is why having an opportunity to
be here is extremely important, but it’s actually humbling for myself.

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The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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