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Opportunities in the military.

Uncle Sam Still Wants You!

The military will always need bright, well-educated people to drive the most extensive defense institution in the world.

Although the military is experiencing growing pains--dealing with the issue of sexual preference of those serving--and is struggling to downsize in this post-Cold War era, the good news is that Uncle Sam still wants you. In spite of the problems it is dealing with, the military will always need bright, well-educated people to drive the most extensive defense institution in the world.

At a time when America is still knee-deep in a recession, military opportunities abound for college-educated citizens. With the competition for corporate employment stiffening as American firms seek to streamline their operations, the military offers an oasis of job opportunities, particularly for African Americans, who are most often disenfranchised when jobs are scarce. An added bonus for those investigating career opportunities in the military is the fact that, "African Americans occupy more management positions across the board in the military than in business, in journalism, in government, in medicine, in education and, yes, in sports or any other significant segment of American society," according to General Bernard P. Randolph, U.S. Air Force, Retired, and one of this century's leading African-American military officials. "But whether you want to be a doctor, an accountant, a manager, a pilot, even an entrepreneur--I invite you to consider the armed services as one great way to pursue that career," Randolph told THE BLACK COLLEGIAN's readers in a special report last year.

The evidence of management opportunity in the military for African Americans is well-documented. African Americans are generals, colonels, captains, lieutenants, chief master sergeants, sergeants majors, etc. Indeed, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army General Colin Powell, is the best example of how far one can go in the military.

There are other life-long benefits offered to those who join the military. With a management-level position comes the opportunity to achieve a high level of responsibility at an early age. As early as age 22, according to Randolph, you can be in charge of the training and welfare of hundreds of people. You can fly a supersonic jet aircraft, or manage a program worth millions of dollars. Education is among the greatest benefits of military service. You can earn your undergraduate, master's, or doctorate while serving your country. You can study in America or abroad. Even better, the education is free to you. And if you're still in school you may qualify for a Reserved Officer Training corps (ROTC) Scholarship.

The opportunity for travel is invaluable. You can broaden your prospective of the world by living and working all over the United States, Europe, Asia, and other countries and continents. And you can fly free on military aircraft on a space-available basis when you vacation.

Pay and benefits in the military are comparable to those of the private sector, especially when you add the cost of free medical and dental care for you and your family, discount shopping at on-base commissaries, free legal help, and pension and retirement allotments.

The opportunities are there. You just have to be bold enough to take advantage of them. But as with any other career path, you have to be prepared to compete for the top spots.

"Opportunities in the military are becoming more competitive," says Colonel William A. DeShields, U.S. Army, Retired. "Normally, it just takes initiative to be the best you can be in the armed services," he added. However, in today's increasingly technical environment, students should focus on careers in technical areas in order to advance more quickly through the military ranks.

Disciplines such as engineering, computer science, nuclear physics, and the sciences can put students graduating in these areas on the fast track to success in the military. Moreover, DeShields counsels that students studying these fields and applying them in the armed forces will gather expertise that they will be able to use for a lifetime, thus ensuring career success long after their military service is completed. "If a student operates a computer or pilots an airplane, he or she should be able to do that outside. For example, there is a lack of African-American pilots at commercial airlines."

Col. DeShields, the president and founder of the Black Military History Institute of America, says African Americans should join the military for other reasons, too. DeShields founded the Black Military History Institute of America in 1987 to give visibility to African Americans who have participated in the military from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm. He contends that the contribution of African Americans in the military has been left out of the history books and, in some cases, the omission is glaring. "It was the U.S. colored troops who saved the day for the Union during the Civil War," he explains. This is one reason why African Americans should continue to join the military. It is crucial, DeShields says, that African Americans continue to have a presence in military affairs in order to ensure that our contributions are recognized and documented.

More importantly, African Americans need to join the armed forces and assume positions of power because decisions made by the military brass can impact people of color worldwide. DeShields points to the alarming frequency at which America has been entering wars with countries led by people of color: Iraq, Iran, Grenada, Panama, and others have felt the sting of the American military. "African Americans need to be in these positions of the decision making process because military officials (most of whom are white males) are insensitive to the needs of various ethnic cultures and needs; that's why we need to be there."

"It's very important that we have visibility right up to the four-star level." African Americans need to be able to have a say in things that impact on morale and the welfare of people worldwide, he adds. "Your presence may make the difference between whether we go to war or not."

Both DeShields and Randolph admit that the armed services have still got a ways to go in race relations. DeShields says that there is a tendency by some officials to exclude African Americans from the officer ranks, but that students should be prepared to work through any discriminatory actions that they may encounter.

The colonel knows of what he speaks. DeShields graduated from the then-Hampton Institutes's ROTC program as a commissioned second lieutenant, and spent the next 30 years of his life serving his country. He first served in the Army's Anti-Aircraft Artillery Branch before being transferred to the Army Ordnance Branch, where he assumed a managerial position dealing with the maintenance of equipment. During that time he saw military race relations at their worst and joined the fight both to improve race relations among enlisted men and to secure equal opportunity for African Americans serving in the armed services.

"A few folks will say that the problems are now all gone, that they've all been solved. I say, no, that's not quite right. We wish that were true, but it hasn't happened yet. Nevertheless, we in the military have gone much further than the rest of society in the United States in promoting racial harmony and providing opportunities," General Randolph added. "More young African Americans than ever before are joining the military and staying in. African-American men and women make up almost 20 percent of our military force, a greater percentage than in society as a whole.... We're well ahead in the services in providing opportunities for all of our people, regardless of race or color. And since the opportunities are there, it's now our responsibility to take advantage of them. We should never sit back and say, 'Somebody is standing in my way,'" Gen. Randolph concluded.

Colonel DeShields believes that the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to choosing a military career. "You have to be practical. It's an opportunity for a career and a future.... It's free, so why not take the opportunity?"

Role Model Profile

Percy O.H Norwood, Jr. Commander Chief, Reserve Training Support Branch, Office of Readiness and Reserve U.S. Coast Guard, Washington, DC

Cmdr. Norwood is responsible for managing training support programs for more than 15,000 Coast Guard reservists throughout the United States.

Norwood holds a B.S. in chemistry from Alcorn A&M College in Lorman, Mississippi and an M.S. in human resource management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He graduated Coast Guard Officer Candidate School in 1972. Previous assignments in the Coast Guard include a tour as a marine environmental protection officer in Miami, where he was responsible for overseeing oil and hazardous chemical spill clean-ups and enforcing dangerous cargo and hazardous chemical regulations. He also served as assistant professor of chemistry at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, and has held numerous assignments in the reserve program.

Norwood's immediate goal is to be a Coast Guard captain. He plans to retire within the next five years and transfer to the Senior Executive Service in the federal government.

His tips on success: "Have fun in what you decide to do, because that enthusiasm, energy, and passion will come through and show up in your work. Get some advice from folks who know about the areas you're interested in--get some mentoring. Don't blame other folks because you don't succeed. Accept responsibility for yourself."

Role Model Profile

Karen Gibbs Ernst, Esq. Lt., JAGC U.S. Naval Reserve

Lt. Karen Gibbs Ernst received her bachelor's degree in business administration from Howard University in 1986. Active in a large number of undergrad student activities, she earned several honors, including the Liberal Arts Trustee Scholarship, National Honor Roll member, and Foundation for Student Communication, Business Tomorrow XI Conference Essay Winner.

Lt. Gibbs Ernst received her JD degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1989. At Georgetown she was a staff writer and business editor for the Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, a member of the GULC Admissions Committee, the Student Bar, American Bar, Black Law Students Association, and president and corresponding secretary for the Network Exchange.

Prior to her commission into the USN, Judge Advocate General Corps, she worked as a legal intern and junior associate to both government and private organizations.

Lt. Gibbs Ernst is currently stationed at the Naval Legal Service Office, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, serving as a special assistant United States attorney.
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Title Annotation:Special Career Report; Annual Jobs Issue; includes role model profiles
Author:Campbell-Rock, C.C.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:1743
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