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Guard Bureau Presents First Five Diversity Awards

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 11, 2003 – The National Guard Bureau's first Excellence in Diversity Awards went recently to Georgia, Massachusetts and New York for their efforts in bringing diversity to the force during 2002.

Air and Army National Guard representatives from the three states accepted the awards here Jan. 31. The awards cited states' efforts to give people the chance to serve and advance as equals, regardless of race, gender or religion. Georgia and Massachusetts each took home two of the five awards for 2002, the National Guard's Year of Diversity.

"All who have the ability to serve should have the opportunity to lead. Diversity will make that happen," insisted Dr. Samuel Betances in his comments to guardsmen who strive to shape their units to reflect the cultural and leadership mix of their communities.

Betances, an organizational diversity consultant from Chicago, said diversifying the force would help sustain this country's all-volunteer armed services.

"I know that there has been talk about bringing back the draft, but if we do diversity right, we won't have to bring back the draft," he said. "People will be proud to enlist and re-enlist and continue to serve this country."

The state of Georgia received the Guard Bureau's Joint Service Excellence in Diversity Award for fostering a 30- member human relations team of traditional and full-time Army and Air Guard members and state employees. The team was credited with forging "an exceptional array of accomplishments" that will be featured in a "best practices" book.

Massachusetts' 1st Battalion, 104th Infantry, 26th Infantry Brigade, in Springfield, won the Army Guard award for Unit Excellence in Diversity for organizing veterans to mentor local high school students who are interested in joining the armed forces.

New York's 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh won the Air Guard's Unit Excellence Award for training diversity educators, retaining members of underrepresented groups and building partnerships with community organizations.

Maj. David Mikolaities from Massachusetts' 26th Infantry Brigade won the Army Guard individual award for developing a relationship between students in the Springfield High School Junior ROTC program and the members of a local Puerto Rican veterans center.

Chief Master Sgt. Percy Freeman, human resources adviser for the 116th Air Control Wing in Georgia, was the Air Guard's individual winner. He was described as "a key contributor to the development of the Georgia Department of Defense State and Unit Diversity Strategic Plans."

The two Guardsmen were unable to accept their awards in person. Mikolaities was deployed on active duty, and Freeman was out of the country because of his civilian job, it was explained.

"This is not about a year, this is about a journey," said Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, about why leaders of Guard diversity programs should be recognized every year. "This program is just starting. We're beyond the bumper sticker by a long way."

"We become as individuals and as an organization what we reward. If we want to become more diverse, we have to reward these efforts," observed Lt. Gen. Daniel James III, the Air Guard's first African-American director. "I look forward to the day when diversity will be as much a part of this organization as flying safely and mobilizing and all of the other things that we do so well."

(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is senior correspondent in the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office, Arlington, Va.)

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