Taking 'Pentagon to the People,' DoD Reaches Out
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
MONTGOMERY, Ala., Feb. 24, 2005 With the theme, "Reaching Out to Youth: A Strategy for Excellence," a top defense official told a gathering of students, educators and DoD personnel here today that the defense-hosted African-American History Month observance luncheon at Alabama State University was part of the "Taking the Pentagon to the People" program.
"In the past, the department conducted its observance of African-American History Month in the Pentagon auditorium and basically talked to only the local community," said Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "It seemed to me that in order to significantly recognize and celebrate contributions of African-Americans, we should explore ways to do this with meaning, substance and benefit for our future leaders."
Abell said he asked the questions, "Why not take the Pentagon's program to the nation and to the nation's students? Why not construct a partnership that would combine information about military and civilian opportunities within DoD with a celebration of recognition of African-Americans?"
"We started this effort two years ago at Toogaloo (Miss.) College and conducted last year's observance at Florida A&M University," he noted. "This year we're here at Alabama State University."
Noting that African-Americans have a long and proud history in Alabama, Abell said DoD is proud of the military aspects of that legacy. "African-Americans Alabamians are also a vital part of our nation's military legacy and service of which we can all be proud," he said.
When former President Harry S. Truman recognized the immorality of segregation by issuing an executive order in 1948 calling for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces, it not only resulted in integration of the military services, it enabled DoD to become a national leader in providing equal opportunity for all Americans, Abell said.
"Civilian society didn't change as rapidly as the military," he noted.
But because of the civil rights movement and the executive leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the nation has changed a great deal since the 1950s, Abell said. "But despite well-meaning efforts, not every problem has been resolved even today," he added.
Abell said while initial civil rights legislation was enacted in the 1960s, it wasn't until the mid-1970s that programs like DoD's National African-American History Month Exposition and Symposium could be held.
"Up to that point, Jim Crow laws, segregation policies and the inadequate civil rights legislation still tragically divided our nation," he said.
Abell said he and the DoD leadership believe deeply in the ideals and principles that everybody in the nation deserves a chance to work, to succeed and to rise in the world. "To that end, we're doing everything we can to make certain that those opportunities are there for virtually everyone in our society," Abell said. "We all need to work hard every day and remind ourselves that we have an obligation to future generations to preserve the American dream.
"I ask the youth to remember that to succeed in America, what counts is not your background, or your heritage, or your family status, or even where you come from," he continued. "What counts is your willingness to work hard, to save and invest, and to persevere."
Abell told the middle school, high school and college students in the audience that they are the future of the nation -- the future entrepreneurs and business leaders, the future political and military leaders, the future motivators and role models for those younger them themselves.
"It's our hope and expectation that programs like this will build one more bridge toward the achievement of equal opportunity, justice and a mutual respect for all," Abell said.
The master of ceremonies for the luncheon program was John Molino, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for equal opportunity, who pointed out that Joe Lee, president of Alabama State University, hosted the two-day DoD and Historically Black Colleges and Universities observance.
Two graduates of the university told the students about their success stories at the school and in the defense work force. One was Air Force 2nd Lt. Jasmine Bobbitt, intelligence director at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and a former ASU ROTC cadet commander. The other was Kimberly Loder-Albritton, deputy equal opportunity director for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va.
A college-to-military success story was told by U.S. Military Academy graduate Army Maj. Gen. Ronald L. Johnson, director of the Army Installation Management Agency.
Also in attendance was Leonard Dawson, deputy counselor, White House Initiative on HBCUs and; Alabama National Guard Maj. Gen. C. Mark Bowen, the Alabama adjutant general; Brig. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command; Doug Lundberg, director of the Navy human resources policy and programs; Steve Wagoner, associate director for the Air Force strategic plans and future systems; and Rear Adm. Stephen W. Rochon, director of Coast Guard personnel.