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Military Faces Race Challenges Head-on

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., July 31, 1998 – The military has for at least five decades led the way in improving racial harmony in America. But even that leadership isn't free from blemish, Fred Pang told about 500 attendees in a panel session at DoD's Worldwide Equal Opportunity Conference.

For example, Pang said, "It was only last year the heroic deeds of seven African Americans in World War II were recognized by retroactive award of the Medal of Honor." And, he said, the controversy over the performance of the segregated black 24th Infantry in the Korean War is still to be settled.

Pang, former assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, spoke during a panel discussion on minority military service before and after President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Orders 9980 and 9981. The 1948 orders established fair employment practices in the federal government and integrated the armed forces, respectively.

The DoD conference convened on July 26, 50 years to the day after Truman signed both orders. The panel discussion was one of several activities available to more than 1,100 conference attendees, including representatives from foreign countries. All active and reserve components, plus the Coast Guard, took part.

The panel included top-ranking DoD civilians, university professors, authors and a representative from the Navajo Indian nation.

"Today, our military is still challenged by the issue of race and sustaining a force that's representative of America up and down the ranks," said Pang, now a DoD consultant. "The good news is, our military doesn't look away from these challenges, but takes them on -- even though it may take years to bring justice forward."

He predicts that harmonious race relations will continue to grow in importance because the military services and the nation are becoming more diverse.

"Today, roughly 12 percent of our population is black, 12 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian or Native American," Pang noted. "This sums to 29 percent of our population. Census projections indicate that by the year 2050, what we call minorities will pass the 50 percent mark."

The demographic changes will occur while America is engaging a rapidly changing world to build on its economic and political strength, he said. Even with these changes, America will not look like the world of which it is a part, Pang added.

He said if the world was reduced to a village of 100 people, it would include 57 Asians, 21 Europeans and 14 people from North and South America. Seventy people would be non-Christians, half of the wealth would be in the hands of six people, and all six would be from the United States. Seventy people would be able to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, 80 would live in substandard housing, and one would have a college education.

"That is the world village in which we live," he said, adding that DoD and the nation need to determine how to best use their growing diversity to lead in a world demographically different from the United States.

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