FORT POLK, La. –
Black history is American History. Each year February is designated as Black History month to honor the contributions of African Americans from the past and highlight the continued impact of black leaders, professionals and innovators in our society today.
Col. Anita Kimbrough, is the first African American female commander of the dental health activity at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. She was promoted Feb. 1 and wanted to share her experience as a black woman serving as a Dental Corps Officer in the United States Army.
“The history of Black Americans cannot be separated from U.S. history. The two are inextricably linked,” she said. “Black Americans have served in the U.S. military since its inception. It is the diversity in our ethnic and racial makeup that contributes to the U.S. military’s greatness.”
Her family legacy of military service dates back to World War II, where her uncle was a cook. Her father retired from the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas with more than 20 years of service and her uncle Columbus Gamble was drafted during Vietnam, where he earned a purple heart.
Kimbrough’s father Sgt. 1st Class Freddie L. Kimbrough Sr. was born and raised in Kimbrough, Alabama. She said her family can trace their genetic ancestry to Cameroon, Africa but assumes her surname and the name of the town her father is from are associated with the predominant plantation owners and was the name bestowed upon the slaves that worked there in the antebellum south.
“I was born in Munich, Germany and my daddy settled our family in San Antonio when we returned stateside,” she said. “I always wanted to be a doctor. My younger brother and I would set up an OR (operating room) in the back yard. I loved to watch Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I modeled my passion of caring for patients from my mother, Aurelia G. Kimbrough, who was a certified nursing assistant.”
Kimbrough said her mother always encouraged her to get the education she didn’t have and to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
Kimbrough attended Highlands High School in San Antonio, Texas. Her love of science and medicine gave her the confidence to become a doctor. She took extra courses in the summers and finished high school in three years.
“I am the first African American female from Highlands High School to become a colonel in the United States Army Dental Corps,” she said. “I realized very early on that academic success was tied to opportunities. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Davis and my first grade teacher Mrs. Larned, rewarded me when I did well. Their encouragement motivated me to be the best student in my class and the top student in my school. This also laid the foundation for my strong work ethic and how I serve as a military officer today.”
From an early age Kimbrough worked in a medical setting.
“As soon as I was old enough to serve as a hospital volunteer I proudly donned my candy striper uniform and went to work at Southeast Baptist Hospital in San Antonio,” she said. “And as an undergraduate at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, I worked as a patient care assistant every summer at Saint Rose Hospital.”
After graduation she decided to spend a year as a dental assistant with her childhood dentist, Dr. Walter B. Barnett. Convinced that dentistry was her true passion she applied and was accepted to The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio Dental School.
Kimbrough said she was the first black woman from San Antonio to attend and graduate from UTHSCSA dental school.
“There was something that drew me to dentistry. I felt it was an opportunity to achieve my goals to become a doctor while simultaneously allowing me to use my creative skills,” she said. “It’s interesting to note, my mother was a dental assistant while stationed in Germany. She participated in the American Red Cross Dental Assistant program and now, as an Army dentist, I am able to support that same program.”
Kimbrough acknowledged the issue of race has been ever present throughout most of her life. She said she is an American of African descent who identifies as a black woman, but race does not define her. Despite being the daughter of parents from very humble beginnings who grew up during the state sanctioned segregation of Jim Crow she was taught to love others regardless of race.
After dental school she left Texas for additional training and had a successful private practice for many years.
Her experience as a civilian dentist opened the door to the leadership opportunities in the Army when she joined, through direct accession, in 2010.
During her 12 years on active duty Kimbrough has been stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Joint Base Sam Houston and Fort Hood, Texas, she has deployed to Afghanistan 2012 and is currently stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“When I reflect on my military career thus far I’m amazed at the parallels between myself, my father and my uncle with duty stations I’ve had,” she said. “My uncle Columbus trained right here at Fort Polk’s Tigerland before going to Vietnam. Serving here as the DENTAC commander 53 years later makes me feel closer to him, knowing I’m stationed where he trained so many years ago.”
Kimbrough said her journey in life and her success in the Army can all be attributed to her faith, her family and her community.
The path I’ve walked and the life I live have been paved for me by God, my family and teachers along the way who’ve encouraged, nurtured and mentored me,” she said. “So many people in my community believed in me. My military leaders support me and provide opportunities to continue to develop personally and professionally. My decision to join the military as an Army Medical Department Officer has been both challenging and rewarding. If given the choice I would do it all again.”
Kimbrough and her husband have four children and five grandchildren.
“When I decided to join the Army my family was there to support me every step of the way. I’m very proud of the example I am able to set for other women, my children and especially my grandchildren,” she said. “It’s an honor for them to know their grandma and their mom wears combat boots!”
While Kimbrough was officially promoted on February 1, she is traveling to San Antonio, Texas on March 4 for a promotion ceremony in her hometown, surrounded by high school and college friends, military colleagues and family.
Kimbrough continues to break barriers in her career and encourages others to purse their goals.
“To the young girls and ladies of color; be proud of who you are and be humble in your accomplishments. You have a choice each day when you wake up to be the best version of you that you can be. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights which have been given to all humans by our creator. That is what we serve to protect. Be encouraged, be honest, be intentional and be unapologetic in the pursuit of your dreams,” she said. “My advice to everyone is to find ways to be a blessing to others. Take opportunities when they present themselves. Give credit where credit is due.”
Kimbrough said she wants to serve as model of determination and perseverance for the community and the family that nurtured her dreams.
Editor’s Note: Saint Rose Hospital is now CHRISTUS Health Santa Rosa and UTHSCSA is now the University of Texas Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.