Sixty years after President Truman integrated the military, the Navy’s top admiral said Thursday that more must be done to diversify the ranks—especially at the top.
“The lack of diversity in Navy leadership does not allow us to take advantage of varied perspectives, of varied experience. And as a result of that, we are a lesser service,” Adm. Gary Roughead said. “The time for talk is over. The only thing that matters now is action.”
Roughead, the chief of naval operations, spoke to hundreds of military officers attending the annual conference of the National Naval Officers Association. The association supports the development of a diverse officer corps in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard through recruiting, retention and career development.
While blacks make up about 17 percent of the total force, they are just 9 percent of all officers, according to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press.
The anniversary of Truman’s order this week has led Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top officials to reflect on how far the armed forces have come with racial integration and what they have yet to achieve.
Much progress has been made since 1948, Roughead said, when less than 1 percent of Navy officers were black. That figure is now about 8 percent, he said, but the Navy’s senior leaders need to better reflect the U.S. population, which is about 13 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic.
Roughead described various ways to bring more minority officers into senior leadership positions, none of which are quick solutions.
He stressed the importance of mentoring junior officers by steering them to posts that will help them ascend the ranks.
Another important facet: bringing in officers through the Naval Academy and university commissioning programs. Roughead talked about expanding preparatory school slots for potential Naval Academy students.
Roughead said 16 historically black colleges, including Hampton University and Norfolk State University, have naval reserve officer training programs, and the Navy is working to add programs at seven more.
Roughead wouldn’t wait until college to attract potential officers, however.
“We need to look younger,” the gray-haired admiral urged the audience, drawing a roar of laughs. Roughead chuckled, then rephrased the statement: “We really need to look at the younger demographic: middle schools.”
When students are applying to or visiting colleges, it might be too late to interest them in a military career, he warned.
The four-star admiral said he doesn’t envision recruiters canvassing middle schools. Rather, he wants ordinary sailors to tutor students, get involved in after-school or summer programs and talk about their experiences on submarines and ships.