The commandant of the Marine Corps vowed Tuesday to increase the number of black officers, improve minority recruiting and memorialize the service’s first black troops.
Gen. James Amos told about 500 members of the National Naval Officers Association meeting in San Diego that he was “heartbroken” when he examined the status of blacks in the Marine Corps shortly after becoming commandant last fall.
“We’re just not there,” the 64-year-old four-star general said. “We’re not the face of society.”
Amos, who became the 35th commandant on Oct. 22, said black officers numbered 5.6 percent of the total number of officers in 2010.
The general said that although blacks make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise 10 percent of the 202,000-troop Marine Corps.
“It’s not a quota I’m after, but I’ve got to pay attention to the numbers,” Amos told the naval officers association, a group made up mostly of U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard officers. “I just know I’m not happy with where we are.”
“We’re changing our entire approach,” he said, striding across the floor of a hotel ballroom as he made his remarks. “We’re going to improve this year, next year and the year after that.”
The diversity campaign also reaches into the Marine Corps’ past by elevating the story of the Montford Marines, a group of 20,000 blacks who were the first to join the Marine Corps when the service opened its doors to minorities in the 1940s.
Amos said it was shameful that the Marine Corps segregated those men into a separate boot camp established at Montford Point at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where it operated from 1942-49 when the service integrated its recruit training.
He said he is instituting their story into training at all levels, making it required reading for all Marines and working with the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to see they are awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
“That is job No. 1 with me and we’re going to make it happen,” said Amos, who on Saturday spoke to the Montford Point Marine Association’s annual gathering in Atlanta.
Later this month, about 200 Montford Marines are being feted by Amos at a three-day gathering in Washington. Events include a parade in their honor and a videotape interview with each so their individual stories are preserved.
“This is a rich part of our history and our legacy and it won’t be forgotten,” he said.