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Defense Department Still Has Room to Grow, Abell Tells NAACP

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

MIAMI, July 17, 2003 – A top DoD official told the NAACP that DoD's "made great strides in the representation of African-Americans in our armed forces, but we recognize we still have room for growth, particularly in general and flag officer ranks."

Charles Abell, principal undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, made his remarks at the 28th annual NAACP Armed Services and Veterans Affairs awards dinner July 16.

The event was a highlight of the civil-rights organization's 94th annual convention. Abell also took the occasion to thank service members for putting their lives at risk to safeguard American freedom and way of life.

"At any given moment our armed service members are flying combat missions in Southwest Asia, providing security, humanitarian and civil affairs support in Iraq (and) hunting terrorists in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

Abell told the audience that it has "the right to be proud" of every service member. "We are," he declared.

He also recognized former prisoner of war Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, in attendance. Johnson, an African-American, received celebrity-status attention throughout the dinner program.

She received a bullet wound to both feet when her vehicle convoy came under heavy enemy fire March 23 in Nasiriyah, Iraq. She and other members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Battalion were taken as POWs. Along with six other POWs, she was rescued by Marines conducting house raids in the city of Samarra, Iraq. Unit members found the captives when they kicked down the door to a home.

Abell outlined the state of minorities and women in the Defense Department. He shared statistics that show what he called underrepresentation of minorities in DoD's workforce, both military and civilian.

Abell said the military today includes 15 percent women and 19 percent African-Americans. Eight percent of African-Americans are military officers and 21 percent are enlisted, he added.

Abell said the Pentagon is also concerned about underrepresentation of women, minorities and people with disabilities in DoD's civilian workforce, especially in the senior grades.

He said civilian women comprise of 19 percent of DoD's workforce, while minorities and disabled workers make up 7 percent and one-tenth of 1 percent, respectively. "And only 3.4 percent of our Senior Executive Service members are African-Americans," he noted.

"We have to do better," he said, receiving an approving applause from the audience.

Abell said the continuing challenge facing DoD is recruiting minorities, especially young African-Americans, into the officer corps and federal civilian service to lead an increasingly diverse military and civilian workforce.

He said he is asking the African-American community for help "to plant the seed in your communities with your young people about the responsibilities of military service, the opportunities to excel in military service and the wonderful entitlements of military service."

The awards dinner was full of military tradition and honors. After the presentation of the colors and the national anthem, there was a tribute to fallen heroes and prisoners of war. Then a moment of silence as the names of those military personnel killed during actions in Afghanistan and Iraq scrolled slowly upward across two jumbo projection screens.

During the program, the NAACP honored Defense Department personnel who had worked to promote equal opportunity and civil rights for those in the military and federal workforce.

Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones, senior enlisted adviser in the Army Reserve, received the organization's highest achievement award for military personnel, the NAACP Meritorious Service Award. The award is given annually to a service member in a policy- making position.

Jones is the first female command sergeant major in the Army Reserve and the first female command sergeant major of an Army division. She was recognized for an equal opportunity education campaign she created. The program teaches the importance of equal opportunity to military units, soldiers and civilians throughout DoD and public schools.

Luther L. Santiful received the organization's Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award. Santiful serves as Army director of equal employment opportunity and civil rights for the Department and helped establish the Army's Minority College Relations Program.

In addition, several military and DoD personnel received the NAACP's Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award. The award is given annually to military personnel who have distinguished themselves by contributing to the military's equal opportunity policies and programs.

Recipients were:

-- Marine Capt. Steven Andrews, Marine Corps Recruiting Station, Columbia, S.C. He helped high school dropouts obtain their general education development, or GED, certificates.

-- Navy Chief Petty Officer Hazel Hudson, while serving as ethnic observance adviser for the Fleet Air Mediterranean in Naples, Italy. She worked to enhance ethnic observances with small displays on command bulletin boards and recruiting sailors to work on those programs.

-- Air Force 2nd Lt. Kendrick Harris, Electronics Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. He helped to raise over $8,000 for sickle cell research. He also founded the Junior Tuskegee Airmen program to help guide inner-city youth.

-- Army Maj. Gen. William Cugno, adjutant general, Connecticut National Guard. He created the Young Leadership Program that partnered inner- city youth, high school staff and military personnel for a weekend of team building, communication skill and practical leadership experiences.

-- Air National Guard Col. Cora Jackson, deputy director for readiness, Office of the Assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Jackson guided diversity initiatives with her unit that increased the number of African-American pilot 33 percent. She also directed a recruiting campaign that resulted in the highest percentage of prior- service accession and saved the Air National Guard millions in training cost.

-- Coast Guard Capt. John E. Williams, Maintenance and Logistics Command Atlantic. He initiated a partnership with the National Naval Officers Association that used a country-wide network of active duty officers to increase the number of minority finalists competing for Coast Guard Academy appointments.

-- Gregory Chappelle, a civilian with Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, Warren, Mich. He conducted science and math "outreach" programs to strengthen those skills in students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

-- Harvey L. Player Sr., of the Missile Defense Agency, Washington. He has been an active participant in various programs that benefit minority students, such as "stay in school," summer-hire and college internship programs.

"You do not seek material recognition for what you do," Abell told the awardees. "You do not seek advancement within your service or organization based on what you do. You recognize there are no financial rewards for your sacrifice of time and effort, yet you continue to make a difference, touching the lives of those around you."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCharles S. Abell, principal undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, addresses a military and civilian audience during the NAACP 28th annual Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Awards Dinner July 16. Abell also thanked service members for putting their lives at risk to safeguard American freedom and way of life. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCommand Sgt. Maj. Michele Jones receives the NAACP Meritorious Service Award from Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president and chief executive officer. During his speech, Mfume called Jones his "homegirl" because they both are from Baltimore. Jones is the first woman to hold the rank of command sergeant major in the Army Reserve. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample.  
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