WASHINGTON — Less than 6 percent of the military’s flag officers are black, and the Congressional Black Caucus believes the services are ignoring a brewing crisis caused by a lack of diversity among its leaders.
Members of the caucus are calling for congressional hearings on minority representation in the military’s highest ranks after discussions with service leaders produced no new programs or strategies to address the issue.
“This is 2007 … and yet we have only one black four-star general,” said Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla. “This military has to do a lot more work to truly diversify itself.”
According to Department of Defense statistics, blacks make up just more than 17 percent of the military, but account for just 5.8 percent of the services’ O-7s through O-10s. The only black four-star general is Gen. William “Kip” Ward, recently named head of the new Africa Command.
Of the 929 flag officers across the services, 818 of them — 88 percent — are white males.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the lack of minorities at the highest levels sends a poor message to younger troops.
“There is a sense of outrage at the lack of opportunity in the military today,” she said. “What is happening is that young African-Americans are missing the opportunity to have heroes in their lives.”
Caucus members said they want the military to launch a mentoring program for young minority officers, so senior personnel can give them advice and make sure they are receiving appropriate assignments for promotion.
Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., said she also wants the department to closely review the officer ranks to see if minority candidates worthy of promotion are being passed over.
“If we had the will, there would be a way,” she said. “There are diamonds in the rough right now within our military, that if cultivated properly, that if given the guidance about how one becomes an officer, would certainly do so.”
In a statement, Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said military officials are taking the issue seriously, but promised no immediate action.
“The department took the caucus’ concerns and recommendations and will review their feasibility,” he said.
In the enlisted ranks, blacks and other minorities are more likely to take on leadership roles. More than 25 percent of the total force’s E-7s through E-9s are black, and about 62 percent white.
In recent years the Department of Defense has boosted minority scholarships in the service academies and launched new programs to increase minority involvement in ROTC and junior ROTC.
Caucus members praised those efforts, but said the force cannot wait 30 years for those young recruits to advance before addressing the problem.
“Yes, to the extent we can fill the lower ranks, the higher ranks will be filled,” said Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va. “But there has been a disturbing leveling off among the upper ranks in the last few years. We need to make sure there’s nothing wrong with the system now.”