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EEO Staff Encourages Black Students to Consider DoD Job Opportunities

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

JACKSON, Miss., Feb. 26, 2003 – Inside a small college gym, military officers dressed in neat, crisp uniforms with shiny medals and colorful ribbons extolled the benefits of military service. Saleem Baird, 21, a computer science and economics major at Tougaloo College here, wasn't buying into the message.

Saleem, who is black, dreams of becoming a lawyer and getting a master's degree in public policy. Joining the military would be a last resort, but if his plans fail, he said, he'd at least consider working for one of several defense agencies.

"Who knows what tomorrow brings?" he said, heading for the door with a bagful of souvenirs he'd taken from more than a dozen exhibits. "At least I know what the Department of Defense has to offer."

And that was exactly the point the Defense Department had set out to make at this year's African-American History Month exposition here. The focus of bringing the Pentagon to a historically black college was to inform African-American students and minorities of military and civil service opportunities, said Clarence A. Johnson, principal director for equal opportunity in the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

"We are interested in the African-American community as participants in America's freedom, both as military and civilian participants. The point is to expose the Department of Defense as an employer of choice," he said.

Johnson, a military officer who grew up in Greenville, Miss., 200 miles south of Jackson, said that about 20 percent of the military is African-American. The percentage of African-American officers in all the services is only around 8 percent. The military, he said, is facing "serious challenges in recruiting, accessing and retaining a good number of African-American officers." Only 12 percent of the civilian force is African-American, he added.

"Somebody in this group could one day be leading our nation and our military," Johnson said. "That's why we are here, to let you know the Defense Department is committed to filling its ranks with those who are our citizens from all walks of life."

Conrad V. Meyer, Army Test and Evaluation Command deputy chief of staff for personnel, said the relative shortage of African-American officers explains the shortage of African-Americans in top engineering and technical positions within his civil service organization. His command has no minorities at all at the Senior Executive Service, he added.

"We have some pretty high-ranking minorities in our support and administrative fields, but when you get beyond that, there are none," he said. "One of my charters is to get more African-Americans, women and other minorities into the more technical positions. I understand we can't get them at the top right away, but if we can get these kids to join, we can develop them so they can come through the ranks and put them on track to become a technical director in their field."

About 300 local college, high school and middle school students, mostly African-Americans, took part in the event. They took home with them bags of pencils, pens, key chains, Frisbees and posters, along with brochures and literature about the military and defense agencies.

Among the students, most of whom like Baird have other career plans, the Pentagon hopes a few will look for opportunities within DoD -- someone like Christina Middleton, 16, a Junior ROTC cadet staff sergeant at Forest Hills High School. After talking with representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, Middleton said she's already set her career path to work for the agency someday.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNaval Reserve Lt. j.g. Rickey Coleman listens to a presentation during the African-American History Month exposition at Tougaloo (Miss.) College, Feb. 26, 2003. Coleman was one of several military exhibitors who visited the college to talk to students about careers in the armed services. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageShirley Reed, a procurement analyst with the Army Corps of Engineers, passes out brochures to interested students attending the African- American History Month exposition at Tougaloo (Miss.) College, Feb. 26, 2003. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Tim Gatlin, Southwest Regional outreach officer, talks to students about officer careers in the Army, including attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Gatlin was one of several military exhibitors who attended the African-American History Month exposition at Tougaloo (Miss.) College, Feb. 26, 2003. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Army Reserve exhibition at the Tougaloo (Miss.) College African-American History Month exposition Feb. 26, 2003, included a decked-out Humvee, one of several vehicles displayed by the armed services. The Air Force showed off its street-smart 2003 GMC Yukon Denali -- the head-turner is equipped with a monster stereo system and Air Force wings on the exterior and interior leather seats. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA.  
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