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Making History Was Not The Plan

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Making history in the military was not the plan.

Before he became the first African-American to be promoted to the rank of chief warrant officer 5 in the Army's Transportation Corps, a young Richard Turner wasn't sure what to do with himself.

Growing up in Chicago's gang-riddled inner city during the 1980s made life uncertain.

"Being jumped or held up at knife point, or having your bike stolen, was common in my neighborhood," he said. "I had friends who were killed due to gang activities throughout my high school, so you learn to adapt to your environment. You use your street smarts to stay out of danger."

To stay off the streets and out of trouble, Turner earned a basketball scholarship at a local junior college and spent his time on the courts and in the classroom. But, he said, trouble eventually found him and prompted him to make one of the best decisions of his life.

While at the bus stop late one afternoon, on his way to a home game in which he was the starting power forward, he was held at gunpoint by area gang members. Gang members cried "shoot him, shoot him" as the attacker held the cocked revolver to Turner's chest. Hands raised and duffel bag slung across his shoulder, Turner said he froze.

"My life flashed before my eyes and everything I remembered doing as a kid ran across my mind," he said.

It was a stroke of luck, or destiny, when another teen -- confined to a wheelchair after being shot in a previous gang encounter -- happened by and was able to convince his buddies that Turner was a decent guy and they could let him go.

Shaken, but not deterred, Turner made it to the basketball game, "unproductive at first. I couldn't stop my hands from shaking in the first quarter, but I settled down and had a good game."