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A diversity focus for the armed forces: the U.S. Military attempts to address advancement concerns of African American personnel.

WHEN PRESIDENT HARRY S. TRUMAN SIGNED INTO EFFECT Executive Order 9981 in 1948, he envisioned an armed force that would extend opportunity to all persons. Today, the military is striving to maintain this vision by recruiting and retaining an organization that is reflective of the country's diverse population.

There are career opportunities in roughly 23 categories that range from accounting and design to healthcare and information technology, for qualified individuals in all branches of the military. Job prospects are projected to be strong through 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For all branches, there are specific promotional steps available for enlisted personnel, warrant, and commissioned officers.

Despite the broad range of career opportunities available through the armed forces, for African American personnel advancement starts to waiver at the more senior levels. Currently, blacks represent a total of 17% in the military, including enlistment, officers, and general (senior) officers. African Americans make up just 9% of the officer core and 5.4% of general officers. According to Clarence "C.J." Johnson, principal director and director of civilian equal employment opportunity with the Department of Defense, it takes at least 25 years to train and develop a service person into a senior position. So aside from focusing on a career in tactical operations, a leadership track that pertains to combat arms and pilots, one must start this career path early--upon enlistment or graduation from a service academy or officer training program.

We talked to military representatives about those challenges to offer insight on opportunities and retention concerns.

ARMY

According to Brig. Gen. Arnold N. Gordon-Bray, deputy commander for cadet command, there are 170 different career occupations available. He believes the primary skill one develops from serving in the Army is leadership, as well as the values of a soldier: loyalty, duty, respect, self-service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. In fiscal year 2008, out of 452,065 enlisted members, 21.1% were African American. The total number of commissioned officers was 72,928, of which 12.4% were black.

Gordon-Bray says that although retention rates are "very good," approximately 91%, African Americans are over-represented in enlistment ranks and underrepresented in officer ranks. Of the most senior level positions African Americans have attained in the Army, there have only been five four-star generals. Only one, Gen. Kip Ward, is still on active duty.

"We have a tendency to join those branches of the Army that have a direct correlation to civilian jobs like engineers, logistics (maintenance, supply, administration), and transportation," explains Gordon-Bray. "Those jobs do not necessarily prepare you to be the top leaders in the Army." Additionally, numbers in advance positions have thinned as a result of some potential leaders finding opportunities in civilian industries.

NAVY

Aside from the general categories of opportunities, the Navy also boasts stronger openings in healthcare careers for degree-holding service members. And Capt. Ken Barrett, director of diversity for the chief of naval personnel, explains that retention has been equal between races and ethnicities, with African Americans at approximately 40% of the enlisted force and 20% of the officer force. There are currently four African American three-star generals in the Navy.

The focus of the Navy's retention efforts, however, has been on keeping women past their service obligation years. This has led to the development of the Task Force Life Work Initiative, which allows a service member to take a three-year sabbatical without being penalized for lost time. The career intermission pilot program allows enlisted members and officers a year off, with medical and dental insurance benefits, to pursue personal obligations. Women are also allotted extended maternal leave time of 12 months up from four to enable positive family development.

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AIR FORCE

There are more than 140 career specialties in this branch, with an emphasis on engineering, security forces, dentistry, nursing, medicine and linguistics.

According to Capt. Amy Bartholomew, chief of media, the Air Force is currently seeing its highest levels of a diverse workforce. In fiscal year 2008, of the 27,800 who enlisted, 22.6% are women, 18% are African American, and 13.8% are Hispanic.

Retention efforts revolve around programs such as bonuses, special pay, and tuition assistance. These programs target highly skilled airmen with specific, difficult-to-replace specialties. Like their sister branches, the Air Force acknowledges that their officer rates are parallel with their enlisted ranks.

COAST GUARD

A wide range of technical skills including those in electronics, information technology, computer systems, aviation, administration, finance, contracting, mechanics, security, and maritime industry can be developed by serving in the Coast Guard.

Although retention rates are high: 89% for black enlisted members; 91% for officers, according to Capt. Robert Stohlman, chief of the office of diversity, the challenge in reaching senior levels in the organization is directly related to the lack of role models and mentors currently in those positions.

"The number of minorities who graduate from the [Coast Guard] Academy are statistically low, but we're working hard to increase the diversity of the corps of cadets to allow them opportunities to advance to senior officer levels including captains and admirals," says Stohlman. For this year's 2013 academy class, 16% of minorities were accepted, 2% of which were African American.

To improve retention and develop staff for higher levels of responsibility, the Coast Guard is emphasizing a mentoring network to help guide personnel in navigating their careers. Service people are also offered tuition assistance and the ability to pursue master's degrees while on-duty.

MARINES

As of July, of a total number of 203,768 Marines who are on active duty, 20,958 are African Americans. The result of no special retention programs is evident. Since the late 1990s, the number of black officers has declined. According to a report conducted in late 2007, black enlisted Marines were overrepresented in occupations such as food service, traffic management, supply administration, and operations. Black officers were also highly concentrated in aviation ordnance, financial management, electronics, maintenance, and ground electric maintenance, but underrepresented in tank and pilot occupations. Young black Marines are less likely to choose infantry occupations and more likely to choose careers in the area of support.

But black Marines were found to re-enlist in high percentages: in 2006, first-term enlistment for blacks was 40.4% in comparison to 23.8% for whites; second-term enlistment was 75.2% for blacks and 64.8% for whites; and third-term enlistment was 86.7% for blacks and 86.6% for whites.

Compensation

Salary listings are similar across branches--a full-time, entry-level (E-1) enlisted member can earn $15,000 to $17,000 for their first year of service. A full-time, entry-level (O-1) commissioned officer can earn approximately $40,000, given that they come on board with four years of training. In correlation with the salary, service members are allotted certain allowances, which may vary depending on the branch. The general allowances include housing, family separation, clothing, and personal. But there are also incentives and special pay for specific career tracks, such as aviation career incentive pay, career enlisted flyer incentive pay, and hazardous duty incentive pay.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT
Author:Richards, Simone
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
Words:1176
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