I just have to ask, what are the priorities of our U.S. military, especially our primary ground forces, Army and Marine Corps? We’ve written on several occasions about the harmful cuts to our military capability and capacity — something President Obama failed to mention as part of his ISIS strategy. We are pink-slipping young combat leaders in the Army — like the soldier we wrote about here.
Should the Army’s priority be racial diversity and the number of senior black officers? I took particular interest in this USA Today editorial that says, “Command of the Army’s main combat units — its pipeline to top leadership — is virtually devoid of black officers, according to interviews, documents and data obtained by USA Today. The lack of black officers who lead infantry, armor and field artillery battalions and brigades — there are no black colonels at the brigade level this year — threatens the Army’s effectiveness, disconnects it from American society and deprives black officers of the principal route to top Army posts, according to officers and military sociologists. Fewer than 10 percent of the active-duty Army’s officers are black compared with 18 percent of its enlisted men, according to the Army.”
So here we go again with the social engineering concerns, when we should be concerned about the fact that the U.S. Army is at 1940s pre-conscription levels, at a time when we’re facing countless ground-based threats. The last thing I want to see is the pursuit of some misguided affirmative action program in the U.S. Army.
America has a black president, black attorney general, and black head of Homeland Security. Since blacks make up around 14 percent of the population, do we need to be over-represented in top leadership positions in the country? Let’s make this about quality and character, and not just about skin color or quantity.
I was a combat arms officer – black, by the way — and every one of the senior black generals mentioned in USA Today’s article I personally know — CENTCOM CG General Lloyd Austin (with whom I served at Ft. Bragg), USARPAC CG General Vincent Brooks (whom I was with when designated a Distinguished Member of the 16th Infantry Regiment this June 6th), Army Materiel Command CG General Dennis Via (with whom I served at Ft. Bragg), and Chief of Army Public Affairs Brigadier General Ronald Lewis.
As well, there are some great retired officers such as General Larry Ellis with whom I served in Korea 1995, Major General Byron Bagby and Major General Rodney Anderson — both mentors and retired Field Artillery officers. The issue is not just about having more black combat arms officers as it is about the system that develops them.
I wanted to be combat arms – artillery — because it was interesting and challenging. It had nothing to do with being black and having greater promotion opportunity. There was an allure to the science of physics and math — both of which I loved — and being able to put an artillery shell right on target from miles away. I still remember that because I was a young paratrooper being recruited for a new Army branch back in 1987-1988, the Special Forces. Believe me, my heart wanted to, but I was going through a transition and had just married Angela. So I would say it all begins in ROTC or West Point where young black cadets gain exposure to the respective branches of service within the Army. And that means it’s also about exposure — to those blacks who are serving in combat arms branches. It doesn’t even have to be officers.
While at the University of Tennessee, I had two senior enlisted instructors — one who was Airborne Ranger-qualified and wore a 173d Airborne Brigade combat patch from Vietnam. The other was our unit Sergeant Major, a Special Forces Green Beret who was tough as woodpecker lips in the winter time. SGM Massey became best friends with my dad and had an incredible impact upon me — he almost got me to branch Infantry. But even before that, it was SFC David McMichael, a Vietnam Veteran Infantryman who was a senior enlisted instructor for me at Henry Grady High School in Atlanta. Why do I share all this? Because this article was written by a white civilian who seems to believe that there is some sense of fairness that has to be instituted — equality of outcomes, the progressive socialist mantra and not equality of opportunity, which is what the Army has stood for — “be all that you can be” and all that. It doesn’t take a black combat arms officer to inspire more black combat officers.
I think we also need to ask, how many black Members of Congress are former military combat veterans? Why? Because I remember sitting with U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos about the dearth of service academy nominations coming from the Congressional Black Caucus. In other words, opportunities were being wasted.
However, I will offer that we must establish legacies. While I was an ROTC instructor at Kansas State University, I became a role model for a young cadet named Kevin Admiral. Kevin was a kind of a goofball but he had heart. He was at our rival Kansas University and there were no black officer or senior enlisted instructors — and if you know a little about KU they don’t exactly embrace their ROTC program. As a matter of fact, wearing the uniform on campus was frowned upon. Kevin Admiral branched into Armor and has been a successful Company and Battalion Commander in combat. Kevin was the Aide de Camp of the Chief of Staff of the U.S .Army, General Casey. He is now an Army ‘full bird” Colonel and a Brigade Command select. I was a captain when he was a cadet and am so damn proud of Kevin.
And I can always look at my own family where my nephew is an Artillery Major attending the Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth and has also been a general’s aide. I remember bouncing that little fella on my knee, and now he’s a combat veteran artilleryman. And I couldn’t be more proud of Bernie who wears the combat patch of the 18th Field Artillery Brigade (Airborne) where I was the Brigade Operations Officer and a subordinate Battalion Executive Officer.
The USA Today article says “Army Col. Ron Clark, an African-American infantry officer who has commanded platoon, company, battalion and brigade level said he wanted to be infantryman. “I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger in a tree,” Clark says, “and my dad was not having it. He said, ‘Nope, you are not going following my footsteps. I want you to go to college.'” The compromise, after his father had him speak with an African-American brigade executive officer named Larry Ellis, was to enroll at West Point. Ellis went on to become a four-star general, and Clark graduated from the academy in 1988.”
I’m bothered by the title of the USA Today article: “Army commanders: White men lead a diverse force.” I always cringe when progressive socialists start talking about “diversity.” Henry O. Flipper, the first black West Point graduate didn’t have any role model, he stepped up.
The last thing needed is for this to become some political social justice issue and start having hearings on Capitol Hill and quotas. There will be those who step up — just make sure the opportunities are there, but not mandated outcomes and results.
Mentors needn’t be of the same race, COL Clark and BG Lewis say – and I concur as my two best mentors were my Battalion Commander John R. Gingrich and Brigade Commander Denny R. Lewis, both white. USA Today says, “Lewis noted that several of his closest mentors were white officers, including retired General Richard Cody, who retired as Army vice chief of staff. Cody advised him to spend time at the Army’s National Training Center, in the California desert. It paid off, Lewis says. Everyone does not have to look like you,” Lewis says. “You have to be able to receive mentorship, leadership. And you have to follow some of that. You may have to spend some time at a really hard place for a bit.”
Dr. Jason Riley, editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, admonishes progressive socialists in his new book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. Yep he’s got that right.