|Stars and Stripes publishes story bemoaning lack of Black military heroes|
Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse.
--Gen. George Casey, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Meet the Press, Nov. 8
There aren’t a lot of black faces in this year’s Heroes special section. Unfortunately, that’s not a surprise.
Every year, we try to present a diverse selection of battlefield stories, to best reflect the makeup of the military. We seek representatives from each of the services. And we want to make sure that every hero we feature isn’t a white male.
And, in most respects, this section succeeds in that. We rarely have to search for Hispanic troops to profile. We’ve had trouble finding women, but that’s not unexpected given the Defense Department’s prohibition against women in combat.
But finding African-Americans who have received valor awards has often been difficult. It has meant scouring other newspapers and blogs looking specifically for black heroes. It has meant tactless last-minute calls to public affairs officers asking for help identifying “troops with heroic stories, but they have to be black.”
Since we began publishing the Heroes special section seven years ago, we have included profiles of 21 black servicemembers and veterans — just over 10 percent of the total stories.
This year, we tried to figure out if there’s a reason why those stories of extraordinary heroism by African American troops seem hard for us to find.
The Defense Department does not track racial data on valor awards, and has no central database of all the troops who have received those honors. So there is no empirical way to determine whether black servicemembers receive proportionally fewer valor awards than their counterparts.
But broad demographic shifts in the military over the last decade suggest that one of the main reasons we’ve seen fewer battlefield awards for African-Americans is because there are fewer African-Americans on the battlefield.
According to figures from the Defense Manpower Data Center, today there are more than 241,000 African-American active-duty troops in the four services, and nearly 130,000 more in the Guard and Reserve.
But those numbers have dropped significantly in recent years. In 2000, one out of every four soldiers was African-American. In 2010, it was less than one in five. The Marine Corps saw the proportion of blacks drop from nearly 16 percent to about 10 percent over the same span.
Moreover, even fewer blacks are serving in front-line positions, in the kind of combat units where most valor awards are earned.
In 1994, blacks comprised nearly 25 percent of all Army infantry units. By 2009, that figure had dropped to 10 percent. Today, there are four times more blacks serving in administrative or supply positions in the Army than in infantry posts, according to service statistics. Marine Corps statistics show similar trends.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Edwin Dorn, an assistant secretary of defense in the 1990s and now a professor of public policy at the University of Texas. “That’s in line with trends we’ve seen in the past. In an ideal world, you’d like the distribution of [racial] groups to be close to the rest of the military, but that’s the ideal.”
Why are fewer African-Americans electing to serve in combat units? Dorn said it’s a combination of factors, most pointing toward why many African-Americans are drawn to the military in the first place.
“Some of it has to do with racial trends in society,” he said. “[African-Americans] join the military because they see it as a place they can get a leg up, with more opportunity than the civilian economy. So they think about it as a career, or think about the kind of jobs that can translate into a civilian job later on.”
That means gravitating to administrative jobs that provide a long-term career track or are easier to translate into resume-friendly job skills.
John Sibley Butler, author of several books on race in the military, said the overall decline in the number of blacks in the military is not unexpected, given that college enrollments among African-Americans have increased in the last 20 years. That has brought the military’s racial composition closer to the country at large.
There’s also a long-held perception inside the black community that more minorities were forced to the front lines during the Vietnam War than their white counterparts, Butler noted.
African-Americans comprised roughly a third of Army combat infantry ranks during that conflict, according to Butler’s research. Thus, parents who have encouraged their children to join the military in the last 20 years have also pushed them to seek jobs outside of combat specialties.
“So, while Vietnam was fought disproportionately by blacks,” Butler said, today’s wars “are being fought disproportionately by whites.”
In fact, only about 9 percent of the troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been black, even though they make up more than 17 percent of the total active-duty force. In contrast, Hispanics make up roughly 10 percent of the active-duty force and 10 percent of the deaths from the current wars.
Andre Sayles, director of the Army’s Diversity Strategy and Integration office, said the decline in the proportion of African-Americans serving in combat roles has raised eyebrows within military circles. Numerous service-wide studies – including a recent report from the Military Leadership Diversity Commission – have noted the falling combat numbers as a potential area of concern.
“If we are to maintain an all-volunteer army, we must consider all the factors, to include any barriers that may impact lack of African-American service in the combat arms branches,” he said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.
But those are just the statistical explanations. Tyrone Williams, chief operating officer at the outreach group Black Veterans for Social Justice, asserted that African-American troops are receiving fewer valor awards because of lingering racism in the military.
“There is still some institutional racism out there,” he said. “It’s better than in the past, but we still see a lot of bad paper for black veterans, more bad discharges or mistakes with paperwork than with white veterans. It’s still a problem.”
Williams can’t point to any hard data, but he said veterans he works with believe that blacks have to work harder to get recognition and receive services from the military.
And because issuance of a valor award depends entirely on recommendations from commanding officers, the process is vulnerable to human biases.
So the medals problem could be due to hidden prejudice against black servicemembers. And it could be due to shifting demographics.
And it could be, as Williams noted, “that you just need some better sources to find the ones that are out there.”
Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the military fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions.
The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don’t get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. The study, released exclusively to The Associated Press on Tuesday, comes on top of Pentagon data that shows 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don’t qualify for the military because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.
This is the first time ever that the U.S. Army has released this test data publicly, said Amy Wilkins with The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based children’s advocacy group. She said the organization worked with the U.S. Army to get raw data on test takers from the past five years.
The Education Trust study shows wide disparities in scores among white and minority students. Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don’t pass, compared to 16 percent of whites.
Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don’t pass, compared to 16 percent of whites.
Recruits must score at least in the 31st percentile on the first stage of the three-hour test to get into the Army or the Marines. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard recruits must have higher scores.
The average score for blacks is 38 and for Hispanics is 44, compared to whites’ average score of 55. The scores reflect the similar racial gaps on other standardized exams.
Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don’t pass, compared to 16 percent of whites.
We're Diverse and Mission-ReadyStanding at the forefront of one of the most technologically complex and challenging national defense programs is an exciting place to be. As the Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), my goal is to develop and implement initiatives that foster a highly skilled workforce that can help us accomplish our mission.
One of our biggest priorities is to recruit qualified applicants for positions across the engineering, science and acquisition management career fields. Competing successfully for technically qualified applicants in all career areas, at all proficiency levels — from entry–level to the most experienced — is fundamental to our recruitment and retention goals. Our mission depends on our ability to develop future leaders by ensuring they have the skills and competencies needed to excel.
Another priority at MDA is the diversity of our workforce. We approach it as a composite of individual characteristics, experiences and abilities that are consistent with the Agency’s core values. Our inclusive workforce consists of a balanced cross-section of individuals working in various disciplines. Together, they enable us to advance all facets of our engineering and acquisition responsibilities. By ensuring that our recruitment philosophy complements our retention and development programs, we are able to maximize individual strengths and combine them for the collective good of our organization.
Now, we’d like to invite you to explore our programs for yourself. If you have the talent, skills and commitment to be a part of our team and share in the many planned accomplishments we intend to deliver, we look forward to bringing you on board. Take this opportunity to launch your career with MDA.
Patrick J. O’Reilly
Lieutenant General, US Army
Missile Defense Agency
Then again, the Naval and Coast Guard Academies have lowered qualifications in a furious bid to augment the Black enrollment at both formerly prestigious institutions, so you just have to wonder how many Chinese generals are laughing at us right now.
That SEALs Team 6 movie of the Osama killing is going to be hilariously inaccurate, just as any war movie made over the last 30 years that shows Black actors portraying “heroes” happens to be. Courtesy of Stars and Stripes, we are painfully aware that the only heroes being produced in our current military engagements are “too white” for the tastes of those in power in BRA.