A Few Good Officers: HBCUs Seek Ways to Boost ROTC Pipeline
BATON ROUGE, La. — Leaders from 21 historically Black colleges and universities with Army ROTC programs met at a Southern University conference earlier this month to discuss ways to recruit and train more Black officers.
U.S. Department of Defense statistics show that while 29.5 percent of the Army’s 479,426 enlisted personnel on active duty are African American, only 11.8 percent of its 77,946 officers are Black.
“With such a large number of Black enlisted personnel, you can understand the need to have role models in the officer corps to make that part of the Army functional,” says Dr. Edward R. Jackson, chancellor of the Southern University system.
While 270 colleges and universities support Army ROTC programs, Southern and the other 20 historically Black schools at the conference have produced half of the African American officers in the Army, Jackson says.
Southern University, he says, is especially proud of the fact that it has produced nine Army generals over the years — more than any other historically Black college or university in the country.
On hand for the two-day conference was Maj. Gen. William Ward, the only African American currently commanding one of the U.S. Army’s 10 divisions.
In addressing the group of Black administrators, Ward recalled how he had only a handful of key African American officers serve under him over the years in his various infantry commands.
That’s an especially salient point, Ward says, because the Army’s top leadership traditionally has risen through combat-related units such as the infantry.
“I stand in front of these parades and watch soldiers march by — and I look at the ranks, and I look at the leadership,” Ward told conference attendees. “And the picture that I see is not one that gives me a lot of hope for what lies in the future.”
Ward graduated from Morgan State University, a historically Black university in Baltimore that boasts one of the largest ROTC programs at any of the nation’s 119 HBCUs.
Ward notes that many graduates of Army ROTC programs at historically Black schools go on to become corporate leaders after they complete their military careers.
While the group of 21 historically Black schools with ROTC programs is working to improve the percentage of Black officers in the Army, statistics from the Defense Department show that the Army’s percentage of African American officers is significantly higher than that of other military branches.
For instance, a mere 6.4 percent of the U.S. Navy’s 53,745 officers are African American even though 20 percent of its total enlisted personnel, or 313,134 seamen, are Black.
African Americans account for just 6.1 percent of the 70,660 officers in the U.S. Air Force, but make up 17.9 percent of that service’s 289,196 enlisted personnel, federal figures show.
And while 16.7 percent of the U.S. Marine Corps’ 153,343 enlisted personnel are African American, only 7.2 percent of the total 17,858 Marine officers are Black, records show.
African Americans represent about 13 percent of the total U.S. population.
Lt. Col. Fulton Johnson, commander of Southern University’s Army ROTC unit, says one key to boosting the number of Black officers may be to increase the number of ROTC scholarships at Black schools.
Army ROTC scholarships cover tuition and any out-of-state fees, plus provide a $225 book allowance each semester and a monthly stipend of $200 throughout the school year.
Southern University further sweetens the pot for its Army ROTC cadets by providing free room and board, Johnson says.
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