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Abell Points to Past, Urges Preparation for the Future

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Feb. 19, 2004 – The speaker quoted late Air Force Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James, who said his mother told him, "Don't stand there banging on the door to opportunity, then when someone opens it, you say, 'Wait a minute, I got to get my bags.'

"You be prepared with your bags of knowledge, your patriotism, your honor -- and when somebody opens that door, you charge in," Charles Abell recited from James' account. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was giving opening remarks at an African-American History Month reception here at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Feb. 18.

The reception came at the end of the first of two days' activities on FAMU's campus. This marks the second year DoD has taken an outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities to encourage more African-Americans to serve in the armed forces and the DoD civilian workforce.

"We're hosting these activities as part of a larger and very important effort," Abell said. "We want to improve the numbers both in the senior military grades and in the civilian ranks and we can.

"Much of the work will come through stronger connections, support of HBCUs and minority institutions, and by sharing information that allows young people to prepare themselves at an early age to take advantage of opportunities available to serve their country proudly in the armed forces or as a civil servant."

Abell said many young people are reluctant to "charge in," partly because they are unfamiliar with black contributions to the nation's defense. He pointed out "there's a long, honored, cherished legacy of African-American service to the nation. Maybe our youth don't appreciate that, because until lately, historians haven't published a lot of books on the subject."

He shared a few "generally unknown" facts with the audience:

  • During the Civil War, 4,000 black women were employed as nurses for the Union for $10 monthly;

  • During World War I, the Navy was the first service to put black women in its uniform and give them a military rating;

  • More than 1 million African-Americans were in the service during World War II. About half served overseas, more than three-fourths in the Army's service and supply units, port battalions, engineer construction units, medical corpsmen and labor units. They were involved in every branch of the Army and every sector of the war; and

  • About 150,000 African-Americans were in the Navy during World War II. Many of them served in the steward's department as mess men. Two ships were manned with all black enlisted men: the destroyer USS Mason and the submarine chaser PC 1264. The Navy also commissioned its first black officers during this war.

"These few facts serve to remind us that African-Americans have made tremendous contributions in service and sacrifice to America," Abell noted.

The reception followed a daylong technical assistance workshop for HBCUs, in which attendees discussed connecting with DoD from a business perspective. Topics included procedures for obtaining contracts and grants; opportunities in science, technology, research and development; surplus equipment disposal; internships; and ROTC scholarships.

Defense officials, college and university administrators, local government officials and community and organization members attended the DoD-Army hosted , reception. The agenda included recognizing six African-American veterans who helped build the Ledo Road in the China-Burma-India Theater and the Alcan Highway in Alaska during World War II.

One honoree was Lillie Lesesne, a nurse during World War II, and the event included recognition of service members recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

DoD began its outreach initiative last year to collaborate with HBCUs, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities, according to Seema E. Salter, chief of employment opportunity for the Army's Installation Management Agency. She said these forums encourage minorities to join the armed forces and the department's civilian work force and to ensure they know how to access DoD-sponsored programs.

The first outreach program was held last year during African-American History Month at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss.

This year's events include a DoD-FAMU-hosted symposium on issues of mutual HBCU concern, an African-American History Month luncheon, and expositions for middle school, high school and college students.

Fred Gainous, FAMU's president, said as HBCUs prepare the next generation of leaders, it will take DoD and its military services joining hands with the HBCUs to make sure America is forever on the cutting edge of technology, exploration and research.

Contact Author

Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Charles S. Abell

Related Sites:
DoD Celebrates African-American History Month

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