GENERAL SESSION 4: THE FUTURE OF INCLUSION: EQUALITY IN TODAY’S MILITARY — AND TOMORROW’S
July 28, 2023 at 9:15AM ET
Welcome — Pat Ottensmeyer, Board Chair
Welcome — NMAAHC Director Kevin Young
Dr. Terry Babcock-Lumish, Exec. Sec. of the Truman Scholarship Foundation
Introduction of Cmdr. Theodore “Ted” R. Johnson — David Von Drehle
Opening Remarks — Moderator Ted Johnson
Secretary Anthony Woods, Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs
Kori Schake, Senior Fellow and Director of Foreign & Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
Capt. (Ret.) Cynthia Macri, M.D., FACS, FACOG
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jason Dempsey, Executive Director, Center for Veteran Transition & Integration at Columbia University
Introduction of General CQ Brown, Jr. — Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Donald Scott
Truman Civil Rights Symposium Closing Remarks — General CQ Brown, Jr.
Closing message — Clifton Truman Daniel
I’m just so proud [Audio Gap] our staff, our volunteers, and our sponsors for making it possible for us to put this week together and we’ve got a great program today. Some of the most beautiful and historic places in our nation’s capital to celebrate the important decisions that Harry Truman made related to desegregating the Armed Forces and the federal workforce. As we learned yesterday in some of the panels, it’s important to celebrate the past and the actions of President Truman to get us where we are, but I’ll quote once again the remarkable comments from my congressman and friend, Emanuel Cleaver, “It ain’t enough; we got more to do,” and so [Applause] – thank you.
So, as we now look forward to today’s program, the final stretch of the symposium, we’re looking at the impact of President Truman’s executive order on the military of the future, and we’ll wrap up today with closing remarks from Air Force Chief of Staff and nominated joint chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr. Before we get into this, I’d like to take one more opportunity to call out our main sponsors who made this possible: the Boeing Corporation, and of course, the presenting sponsor, Canadian Pacific Kansas City. We’re very proud to have our name associated with this event and this organization.
Now, I’m pleased to bring to the stage, Kevin Young, who is the Andrew W. Mellon director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, with some words about this amazing and incredible venue. Kevin?
Hey, everyone. [Applause] Hey, how are you doing? Thank you.
Good morning, everyone. How are you?
Good, good. I’m Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or as my mom says, the person who can finally get her tickets. [Laughter] I’m so thrilled to have you as part of the museum today especially as part of this historic Truman Civil Rights Symposium.
Looking over the program this week, I see many friends and supporters of the museum, but I especially want to acknowledge Honorary Committee Co-Chair Representative, James Clyburn, who’s one of the museum’s long-standing advocates in Congress. As you know, along with John Lewis, who was my congressman when I lived in Georgia, brought the legislation back year after year until it was finally approved by Congress and signed in 2003 by President George W. Bush to make this possible.
Thinking about the long and ongoing struggle for civil rights in America, our museum’s story mirrors what we know to be true of this movement, that it takes dedication and persistence. It often begins with grassroots efforts led by a courageous individual or community, and it asks, requires our leaders to respond and to act. Seventy-five years ago, as you know, President Truman desegregated the military with Executive Order 9981. For those who lived through this era in our armed services, the struggle continued throughout the second half of the 20th century, and it’s the efforts and legacy of these brave service members and veterans that has brought us to where we are today.
My father was one of those who marched for freedom and who served in the Army, the newly integrated Army, I should say, and I think of that legacy and how it impacted who I am and the stories I get to tell and help tell here in the museum. Some of those stories, as you know, are in the third floor where we have our Double Victory Gallery which explores the African American military experience. The name Double Victory is a nod to the World War II slogan, I’m sure you know this, “Victory abroad against fascism overseas, and victory at home, demanding equality for African Americans in the United States.”
In choosing to serve in the military, African-Americans sought to have their service understood by the nation as a demand for liberty and citizenship, and just last year, the military gallery was renamed the General Colin L. Powell Gallery in honor of General Powell’s lifelong service to the United States, as well as his lifelong support, long-standing support of the museum as a council member and as a founding donor. We’re very proud to tell his story and ensure his legacy here at the museum and I hope that you all see parts of your own story reflected here within our walls.
One of my favorite objects in the museum is the Tuskegee Airmen plane which hangs literally downstairs and is above you as you go through the history galleries. This is the only remaining Tuskegee Airmen plane, and the story goes that someone bought a crop-dusting plane and ran the serial numbers and called up and was told, “You have the last and only Tuskegee Airmen plane.” They fixed it up, redid it, but it’s so beautiful if you get to see it, I’m sure some of you have seen it already, and then they flew it here, which I think is amazing. [Laughter] Even more exciting to me is along the way, they went to air shows and they took up Tuskegee Airmen, the remaining airmen who wished to fly in that plane again. It’s such a beautiful thing to think of them soaring, and I think so much of that soaring feeling that’s in so much of the museum. This soaring feeling is one of those things that the Tuskegee Airmen give us every day. They remind us of the struggle, as well as the triumph that they had. I love their courage and heroism and knowing some Tuskegee Airmen has been a pleasure as we’ve been in the museum, but also, personally for me, in my life.
So, to continue that soaring feeling, I’m really happy you’re here today to think about these questions of service and community, memory and history. We’re really truly honored to welcome you to the museum and I’d like to thank you on behalf of our entire staff for your service. Thank you and enjoy the day. [Applause]
Please welcome Terry Babcock-Lumish, executive secretary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. [Applause]
Dr. Terry Babcock-Lumish:
Good morning, everyone. It is an absolute honor to be here with all of you today in this incredibly magnificent space. I so appreciate the warm welcome, and I just want to welcome all of you as well. Early efforts to establish a dedicated museum featuring African American history and culture we know can be traced to 1915, over a century ago when Black Union Army veterans joined forces in this effort. It is so appropriate that – well, it took all too long. The fact that we are here because of dedicated folks who came together to move beyond dialogue to action in the world’s largest museum dedicated to this very mission, and I love that my West Point and Truman community can weirdly collide on a morning like today, and it just feels most appropriate that we should be joining together in this very special place.
I’m here representing the Truman Foundation, and before I say anything about it, I think it is just essential to extend my heartfelt gratitude on behalf of the entire TruFam, as we call it, all of our gratitude to our Missouri colleagues: Alex Burden, Dr. Kurt Graham, the entire team who made this milestone event a reality. Please join me in thanking them. [Applause]
This has been a magnificent week, and the work really is just starting and that’s really what we’re doing together today. So, my kicking off this day is apropos because there are historians who do invaluable work, and I will devour every Truman book that we have written, and there are many and there are more week-to-week and I encourage you, all, too as well, but my mission is very much looking to the future. It’s precisely where today’s discussions are going to take us with the friends that I’m honored to share the stage with.
As we look to the future, it’s only proper to shine a light on the mission that President Truman charged us all with. If I do nothing else, I’d love to remind you of the Truman Foundation story and to have you know that all of you here, by the very nature of our shared dedication to President Truman’s legacy, our friends of the Truman Foundation. Our friend, Clifton Truman Daniel, sitting here in the front row, knows awfully well the Truman Foundation story and it is very on-brand.
President Truman, we know, was the last American president who didn’t go to college. When he was approached by Parson and Myers, now he didn’t have an elite education, but he was wise and he was prescient, and when asked what he wanted for his memorial – we’re here in the National Mall together, for those of us who live in DC. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t appreciate the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial. They’re incredibly special places to us. But when asked what he wanted for his memorial, the expectation was a granite or marble thing on the National Mall and President Truman said that doesn’t do a lick of good, or as I look at Clifton, he probably said something a little saltier. [Laughter] Explicitly requesting a living memorial is really remarkable, and that’s precisely what we have today. He explicitly wanted a living memorial that would improve the nation he loved dearly, and that is precisely what we do and will continue to do year-on-year. So, don’t get me wrong; I love that we’re here, I love the National Mall, but I want you to know that there are Truman Scholars in all of your communities working locally to globally, and we’re all better for it and many of them are here in the audience with us.
So, founded by statute in 1975, almost 50 years ago, the very mission of the Truman Foundation which is a federal agency within the White House Complex, we identify and support not just when you’re getting started in that career in public service, but we identify the most promising young person making a commitment to a career in service, and we support them across the course of life and career. So, whether in your 20s, your 40s, your 60s, these are folks, dedicated Americans who are making commitments to careers in service, and we are all better for that.
Today, over 3,500 Truman Scholars from every state in the nation, DC and the US territories are precisely what we have as President Truman’s living memorial. They’re charged with the responsibility to meet their moments, our moments, just as we’ve heard in recent days how President Truman met his. This includes Americans currently serving in uniform, whose participation was only made possible by the executive order we’ve been talking about in recent days. These are action-oriented, patriotic Americans that we continue to invest in. I think some might be surprised, but hopefully heartened, that these folks come from not just across geographies, but party lines and lived experience. You know Truman Scholars; you know a lot of Truman Scholars. They’re everyone from Fair Fight Founder Stacey Abrams, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Ambassador Susan Rice, Delaware Senator Chris Coons. We have with us, as Judge Gergel has kindly mentored and taken great pride in, the US Attorney from South Carolina, Adair Ford Boroughs, and there are many, many more. There are a lot of Truman Scholars whose names you don’t know, but I can guarantee, we are better off for the work that they do.
Reflecting on the 75 years since President Truman’s executive order, we recognize our progress and yet, we acknowledge the journey ahead in both today’s military and our wider world. We have a lot more work to do, and that is precisely why we have a shared commitment to service and a democracy that we know is not a spectator sport. In a new century, our 33rd President’s boldness echoes in the courage and resolve of leaders who consistently choose the harder right than the easier wrong. The spirit of Executive Order 9981 remains a beacon for us to follow, a testament not just to our past, but a guide to shaping and actively shaping a brighter, healthier, kinder, more inclusive, more just nation in the world.
So, thank you for all, all that you do and will continue to do because when we leave here today, I hope you’ll join me in recommitting to the work ahead, investing our next generation of patriotic, principled, purposeful, action-oriented leaders. You know many of them, and we’re going to continue to add. I’d like to think President Truman would be awfully proud of our Truman Scholars, and we’ll keep doing our darndest to make sure that, Clifton, we keep making your Grandpa proud. For all of you, for the work you do, I hope you’ll join me in continuing to fight the good fights and to know that you are friends of the Truman Foundation. For all of you who are here, thank you, and I think we’re going to have a great last day. As you head back home, I wish you well, and to know that there are Truman Scholars in your community.
Also, so we’ll open our annual competition in just a few weeks, you probably have folks who might be aspiring to public service, and I encourage you to encourage them. Our Truman Scholars, my goodness, President Truman was the one who said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” Our Truman Scholars are not usually the ones who are looking to get the credit. Often, they’re the ones who are so busy doing the work that they’re not seeking to apply to a thing, a shiny thing. So, for someone who is a living memorial, if you have someone that you see in your lives and your communities that you think might well be an appropriate living memorial to President Truman, you never know what an encouraging word might do.
With that, thank you. Take good care and thank you for being with us. [Applause]
Please welcome, David Von Drehle, columnist for the Washington Post. [Applause]
David Von Drehle:
Good morning, and welcome to the final program of the Truman Civil Rights Symposium. It’s a dream come true to be in this magnificent national treasure, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For my money, the finest museum in the Smithsonian system and one of the greatest in the world.
As Patrick said, our final program is looking to the future after two wonderful days of studying the past, and our moderator for this program is one of the brightest lights – I’ll say, if I can be personal, one of the brightest lights in my life. For the past six months, I’ve had Ted Johnson as a colleague and been privileged to help bring his voice as a Washington Post contributing columnist to the American people.
Retired Naval Commander Theodore “Ted” Johnson is a scholar of the past and an optimist of the future. He’s a fellow senior advisor at New America Foundation where he is preparing for that organization to help lead America’s celebration of the upcoming 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, and other publications, but now, if you want to find him, look in the Washington Post. He’s a former White House fellow, former speech writer to the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, and our moderator and really, the brains behind this morning’s panel, Commander Ted Johnson. [Applause]
Theodore R. Johnson:
Okay, good morning. Thank you, all, for being here. I’m going to keep it super short so we can get to the conversation. So, just a few things. One, I am thrilled to be part of this event and to recognize the courage of President Truman to sign Executive Order 9981, an order frankly that is the only reason I can take the stage today as a retired Navy guy, but even more importantly is the personal growth, Truman’s personal growth over his lifetime. I work in the world of political science and we’re talking lots about hyperpartisanship and polarization. Now, people are dug in on their positions. Truman had the opportunity to do that and he chose the more difficult, more American path of growing, and yet the work continues. This order was signed in 1948. If you wanted to be an officer in the Navy, very difficult even after the order was signed. When I went on my first deployment in 1999, it was an all-male ship, no women allowed. My second deployment, women only could be officers and they refitted the ship to allow for female sailors to be onboard. This is 2001. My mother graduated from high school in 1970, 16 years after Brown v. Board, and she was the valedictorian of her segregated high school in Blakely, Georgia. So, just because legislation, Supreme Court decisions, executive orders are signed and come down to the country does not mean change happens overnight. The change takes time, it requires energy and efforts, passion, and it requires the next generation to pick up the baton and not let the changes, the progress we’ve achieved fall to the side.
As we say in the Navy, not pick up the baton, but we’ve got the watch. We have the watch for our democracy. We have the watch for the diversity that we bring, the strength that we bring to our nation and to the world, and so to have this conversation, I’ve got a few of my good friends here, and I want to make sure I introduce them in order. First, we have Retired Navy Captain Cynthia Macri, and then we have Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jason Dempsey, Dr. Kori Schake, and Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs Anthony Woods, Tony Woods. Please. [Applause]
All right, so we’re going to power through some questions here to keep us on time, and the first question I want to ask is how each of these folks came to the work of inclusion, the military, and thinking about the future of the country. First, I want to ask Captain Macri about her life growing up, her father, her grandfather and how their story contributed to how her military career ended up or sort of went.
Thank you, Ted. My story is like everybody else, my journey is not linear, but one of the things that I wanted to make sure that I brought up was that before Executive Order 9981, there was Executive Order 9066 which resulted in the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, many of whom were actually US citizens by birth. In addition, so among those people that were actually arrested and put in US prisoner-of-war camps was my grandfather who was in Camp Livingston, Louisiana for the duration, most of the war, and then was paroled in March of 1944 and reunited with his family at Camp Jerome, Arkansas which was one of the 10 war relocation camps.
My dad then – the family returned after the war through Tule Lake back to Hawaii where my dad got a bachelor’s degree but was drafted in 1951 for the Korean War before the McCarran Act in 1952 restored his birthright citizenship. Again, these are parts of the history that I think many people either don’t realize or don’t remember or were never taught. So, my dad went on to the University of Minnesota, where I was born, to get a PhD in plant genetics and ended up serving humanity throughout the world for his entire career as an international agronomist.
I’m the middle of five kids, born in St. Paul, Minnesota, which always puzzles me when people ask me where I’m from, where I learned how to speak English, and more recently, [Laughter] why don’t I go back where I’m from? Those are things that we endure as part of what we call or what have been labeled as microaggressions that make us feel like we don’t belong. The experience then was since I’m the middle of five kids, of course, everybody was Japanese American, right? Everybody expected to go to college. I didn’t even know you could have a job without a college degree, [Laughter] and there was no money.
So, I joined the Navy to go to med school and, by the way, when you’re three years old and you tell your Japanese-American father that you’re going to be a doctor, guess what you end up being? A doctor, right? [Laughter] I was not the smartest student, but I had an interesting life because I had lived overseas, worked in a leprosy hospital in Pakistan. Who else did that among applicants for medical school in 1979? I joined the Navy in 1979, and like Ted said, who knew that we couldn’t be on ships, right? Who knew that we didn’t have the freedom to choose where we wanted to go?
I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. I played college soccer on a men’s team actually in 1975 and I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. Those doors were not open in the military at the time. So, I did not have all of the choices that I wanted, but I leveraged the ones that I had and ultimately, we ended up publishing a paper about how health disparities – this was in the 1990s, late ‘90s – health disparities actually were killing people. So, systemic mismatch between providers and patients culturally, race, identity, et cetera contributed to poorer outcomes among minority women for one of the most prevalent worldwide cancers, cervical cancer. So, we published that paper and that launched me on my journey to improve diversity in higher education by any means that I could, and the Navy was very receptive to that in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, and ultimately, I built my portfolio around improving diversity in higher education.
Theodore R. Johnson:
Thank you, and to all those who say learning the tough history of our country will dissuade people from serving, no. No, it won’t. People who love the country will serve the country no matter what the history is, and again, this panel is proof of that.
So, Jason has an interesting story about the man who now is – the military display upstairs is now named after Colin Powell. So, I’ll turn it over to Jason for his journey from a cadet all the way through to his retirement to just talking about inclusion and the role of diversity.
Thank you, Ted. I was a military brat, as many of us are nowadays who join the Army, and my formative experience in the military was defined by the early ‘90s. That’s when I decided to put on the uniform. There are two things that define race relations in the military in the ‘90s or at least the perceptions of race relations in the ‘90s. The first was the first Gulf War, right? The first Gulf War, if you remember, was seen as an exorcism of all the demons of Vietnam, not just our battlefield failures, but included the racial strife that had rocked the military through the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
The second thing was, well, we had General Powell appointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that was an indicator, at least to a lot of people, “Okay, the senior-ranking person in the military is a Black general, we’re done with race.” I was fortunate, prior to commissioning, to go intern as a speech writer for General Powell, and there are a couple of things that really opened my eyes about those general perceptions about race in the military at that time. The first was the letters. General Powell received more letters than any chairman had previously and probably any chairman had since. And it was young kids, it was people getting ready to commission. Everybody wanted him to come and see them graduate from basic training. They wanted him at their commissioning. They wanted to ask him advice about joining the military, and it showed what a dearth of representation there had been up to that point. That hunger for seeing somebody like yourself as you make this leap into this really hard profession.
The second thing I was tasked with was researching and drafting what became his dedication speech or speech at the dedication of the Buffalo Soldier’s monument. I trucked my way down to the Pentagon Library and it was the first time I really dug into the history of what had happened to African Americans in the Armed Forces and seeing the just outright brutality, the criminality, the discrimination they faced year after year after year, and more importantly, it was done by gentlemen that we had otherwise been taught to venerate as heroes. The fact that we excluded that from how we taught history indicated that we had some real blind spots in how we were going to approach this issue. As I went and left and got in the Army, I realized, okay, the Gulf War and all that was really – it wasn’t about the end of race, frankly, it was our mission-accomplished moment on race. It was not realized that we still had a long, long way to go. We certainly hadn’t exercised our inability to avoid catastrophic failure in a counterinsurgency war, but we also had not gotten past the challenges we were facing on racial and ethnic integration.
Fast forward, I was able – several years later, the Army sent me to go teach at West Point and I was able to, as part of my doctoral degree, do a survey, the first of its kind of the social and political attitudes of all ranks of the United States Army, and I asked that classic question, “Do you think there is more or less discrimination in the military than in civilian society?” Conventionalism was, “Of course, the military is wonderful,” but when I looked, 80% of Army officers at the time, and unfortunately still are in the senior ranks, are predominantly White males. If you look at the way they answered that question, 88% said, “Of course, there’s less discrimination in the military than there is in civilian society,” but when you broke it down by race, it was a different story. No matter what rank they were, enlisted, junior officers, even senior officers, if they were not White, their answer was, “Eh, maybe.” Less than 50% said there was less discrimination in the military than in civilian society across all those minority demographics, across all ranks.” So, if you think about what that means for the way conversations take place about race in the military, I would just say imagine two middle-aged White guys alone in a conference room saying, “Hey, Jim, are you racist?” Or, “Do you think I’m racist?” “No, Bob, you’re awesome. You’re not racist.” [Laughter] “All right, cool. We’ve solved race, ergo, anybody who talks about it must be whining or a troublemaker,” and that’s been, to a large degree, the challenge we’ve now faced and how do you overcome those institutional factors that prevent these conversations.
Theodore R. Johnson:
Right. Yes, that’s amazing to hear you talk about Powell. I think after Obama’s election, we’ve had the national post-racial moment and I think the military had that moment a couple decades earlier with Powell and realized, just as the nation did, “It ain’t post-racial, brother. There’s work to be done.” So, Kori, she worked on the Base Renaming Commission, and so I’d love for her [Applause] – I’d love for her to talk about that experience and the reminder that the past is always with us unless we take it head on and do something about it. So, Kori?
Yes, so it was a privilege to work under Michelle Howard’s leadership and I think a lot of the reason – quite sincerely, a lot of the reason there hasn’t been more pushback to the change that the commission ushered in was the grace and excellent leadership that Admiral Howard brought to the process that was inclusive, that was consultative, that helped bring communities along.
So, I have to tell you though, it was genuinely shocking to realize that the Department of Defense has 10,000 properties named for people who voluntarily served in the Confederacy. We recommended the renaming of the 10 big Army bases and two capital ships, but 10,000 properties named for people who served in the Confederacy.
I want to mention two things. First, one of the most egregious properties for me was until this year, at the United States Military Academy at West Point, there was a 20-foot-high portrait of Robert E. Lee in his Confederate uniform with a Black slave holding his horse that was given by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1954. Soon after, Black cadets started matriculating at West Point. That hung in the cadet library until this year.
The second thing I want to say is just to briefly illustrate one of the soldiers for whom one of the bases was renamed, William Henry Johnson, who fought in World War I. He was an American soldier. Because the American Army would not permit Blacks to serve in combat because they did not want them to get the social acceptance of that service. His unit, the Harlem Hellfighters actually fought attached to a French unit. He was the first American soldier awarded the Croix de Guerre and subsequently the Medal of Honor, and Fort Polk has now been renamed for him.
Theodore R. Johnson:
Wow. [Applause] I suspect that this will be a political football of sorts, what we name them and sort of that thing. So, the conversation is not over. Even with the amazing work of the commission, that work will need to be defended and will require our support. Let’s go to Tony or Secretary Woods. Tony and I go back a decade or so, so I got to get used to saying secretary now. When your friends become important, you got to follow the tide. [Laughter] So, Tony served in the Army, returned from Iraq, and gets a prestigious appointment to Harvard, and everything changes for him, and I’d love if you to talk a little bit about your journey.
Well, thank you very much, and thank you, Ted, for organizing this. So, I come to this work, first and foremost, the son and grandson of Air Force Veterans, right? So, Executive Order 9981 really shaped the family business, so to speak. As Jason mentioned, so many folks who serve come from families who have examples of people who served as well. So, that certainly animates how I think about this work and how I think about my service. For me, raised by a single mom who worked as a housekeeper, West Point became my opportunity at completely changing the trajectory of my life and getting a shot at the middle class. So, that was exceptionally important to me to get an opportunity to serve in exchange for a great education. Unfortunately, after my two deployments and after going to Harvard, my career was interrupted because I chose to be honest about who I was or my sexual orientation. So, this is at the time that don’t ask, don’t tell was still very much the law of the land, and it resulted in me being discharged from the military. I did work on advocating for repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell with so many others, and obviously was very excited to see when that law went away. I think it’s pretty rare in life that people who advocate for something also then immediately get to enjoy the fruit of that labor. So, just a couple years after that, I was actually able to rejoin the military where I still serve in the Army reserves today. So, I’m a major assigned to the Pentagon on the joint staff.
So, I bring to this work a lens thinking about LGBTQ service members and the acceptance and inclusion that they have as I serve today. Finally, Ted, to your point, I have the privilege of serving in the Moore-Miller Administration in Maryland as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. So, we have about 360,000 veterans who live in Maryland, and it’s an exceptionally diverse veteran population. One of the things that I’ve learned a fair amount about over time, whether serving on an advisory board for the US Department of Veterans Affairs is that the fact that we have a very different conception and image of what it means to be a veteran has actual real outcomes and impacts on the level at which veterans consume the benefits that they have earned. So, women, for example, are far less likely to take advantage of the benefits that they’ve earned. So, if you are a woman, 40% of women veterans will take advantage of at least one benefit that they’ve earned, right? So, that’s leaving a tremendous amount of resources on the table because more often than not, when we think of what a veteran is, it’s a person who was a White straight male who served in a combat arms role on the front lines overseas. That perception has very real impacts, right? Right now, a Black veteran who applies for or files a claim related to post-traumatic stress disorder, far less likely to have that claim accepted than a White veteran, right? So, thinking about disparities in how inclusion plays out in an exceptionally diverse veteran population is something that’s very important to me, right? So, Governor Moore, his governing philosophy is “Leave no one behind.” So, I think about, well, who are my most marginalized or underrepresented veterans who we have to put first when we’re thinking about the work that we have to do?
Theodore R. Johnson:
Wow. Okay, so we’ve talked about – I mean, I think all of these stories connect the past to present service and present challenges. So, thinking about the next set of challenges, what do those look like? What are the Gen Z kids that are thinking about what they’re going to do after high school or after college? Is the military one of their options? What are the next set of inclusion challenges that will require the kind of courage that Truman demonstrated that will be required of us? So, this is sort of an open question, but what’s the frontier? This is not to suggest that we’ve solved race or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation issues in the military, but we know from American history that the set of problems has not been constrained, has not been bounded, that it can grow. What are the next set of challenges? I’d love to hear the future of inclusion in the military. What are the successes that we can look forward to and as well as the challenges? Sort of an open question for the group here.
I’ll take a shot at that. I think both a present and a continuing future challenge is socializing the appreciation that inclusiveness is what makes for war-winning armies. To your point that there’s a stereotype of what people think a veteran is, there’s also a stereotype of what an effective combat unit is. It’s not diversity in all its forms but actually the scholarship. I commend a terrific book to you called Divided Armies. It’s an exceptional work of scholarship that demonstrates historically war-winning armies are armies in which everybody feels like they belong and they contribute. Given the way that military service is being politicized, military promotions being held up by Senator Tuberville, for example, in order to score points on other issues, and the way the military is being dragged into a lot of culture war issues, that’s bad for inclusion, that’s bad for national security. That’s an ongoing argument that both within and external to the military, we still need to do a lot of work on.
Could I just add to that? Because I completely agree with what you’re saying. One of the things that I think that we have to look at is in the past that will maybe put the future on trajectory. What we’re seeing now I think is reliving the past. People are dead set on making sure that we’re actually being rolled back, right? Like Senator Tuberville, and I got to tell you – I’m a soccer player, so a soccer metaphor, right? You can’t build a winning team if all you recruit is strikers, right? Also, if you don’t play everybody on the field, you are playing short. That’s the metaphor I used to use when I talked to my boss, the chief of naval operations. That’s a concept, I think, that people are more willing to look at. If you’re excluding people that are on your team, you’re playing short. So, our effort should be to make sure that we include everybody. Along the lines of Tuberville, right? He’s a college coach. Well, that’s the same thing that happened to Title IX, right? It was signed in 1972. It didn’t get enacted until 1975. Why? Because of all the court challenges that they made it about football and not about higher education, equal educational opportunity, and that’s something that I think we’re still fighting for today is equal opportunity for that education, for that network, for that, as you say, middle class wealth, right? Those are things that we still need to look for. By letting the football culture basically dictate [Laughter] the trajectory of the military, I think, works against us.
Yes. If I could add quickly, one of the things that I think is important to note, the military is in a competition for talent, right? It has missed its recruiting goals pretty significantly for the past – I can’t remember the last time it’s actually hit it across the board. So, I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is that when a young person today is thinking about serving in the military, they’re looking for an environment where they can bring their whole selves to work and be who they are, right? Of course, the military is going to assimilate them into the culture that it is, but they still need to know that they’re going into an environment where they’re going to be accepted and appreciated and respected, right? So, if you look at Gen Z today, those who do not identify as cisgendered or straight is actually a dramatically increasing number. I think the highest estimate I’ve seen is actually 20%, right? So, if we’re thinking about this, we need to ensure that we’ve got a military environment that is inclusive, and I think starts to take seriously – I think we’ve seen it as a little bit of a political football between administrations. Transgender service members, for example, being able to serve openly and receive the full healthcare benefits that they deserve and that they’ve earned, right? So, when we think about how the military thinks about things like diversity, equity, inclusion programs which were zeroed out of the House Republican version of the National Defense Authorization Act, we have to think about taking that seriously going forward, because you can’t roll these things back and expect that the military is going to be an environment that’s going to be able to recruit the best talent year over year.
I think there’s a short and long-term challenge. The short-term challenge is even within the military now as it becomes a partisan in political football is how do you create a tribe stronger than the pull of social media? And we’re not winning. The radicalization of veterans who go on to commit violent extremist acts is now happening while they’re in service. If you look at the folks who are going out and actually acting on their beliefs, they’re much younger than previous generations of veterans who went and joined extremist groups, and they’re more likely to act. As the military increasingly becomes partisan football, it will tear the military apart. So, we have to figure out how do we get back to team building this way that the military used to isolate and put people in an environment where it was controlled, structured, and you could worry about other things than what your uncle said on Facebook. The second bit, the more long term that I think we really have to grapple with is the organizational structure and the culture of the United States military is still 50 years behind most of the United States. It is still built on an industrial era model that assumes a single earner family with a camp-following wife for the most part. In a world where 60% of women are now college graduates compared to 40% of men, that’s going to become an increasingly hard thing. Then we’re going to have a smaller and smaller and smaller segment of the American public that’s willing to serve, and they’re going to look less and less and less like their peers. So, there are some real structural changes that the military is absolutely not comfortable with making, that we have to force them to make to make sure that they are still in tune with American society. [Applause]
Theodore R. Johnson:
Very good. So, we’ve got about 10 or 15 minutes left before we need to move on. So, if you have questions, please scribble them down on a piece of paper and pass them to the folks that will be walking around to collect them. While that’s happening, I want to ask a final question for the group before we go to these questions. A couple of things. One is that in the recent affirmative action case for admissions, one of the carveouts for where race could be used with the service academies, and this was an understanding by the Supreme Court, that diversity is a strength, maybe a strength that our services should have, but not the nation which is a separate conversation, but it does signal the importance of diversity is understood at the highest levels. So, the question I want us to wrap on before we go here is when Truman signed 9981, a lot of leadership in the military, civilian and uniformed said, look, the military’s not a place for social experimentation. They said the same thing with the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. This is not a place where you experiment with society in a war-fighting apparatus, and yet, many of the nation’s advances, the military has often been at the vanguard, either directly or because of the relationships created during service that people take back to their communities and now approach policy with a different level of compassion. So, I just want to ask you this question about the role of the military as a kind of social experiment, a way of thinking about the future of the country by modeling it through those who serve, or if that’s not an appropriate role, and the fact that the military is at the vanguard is actually bad for democracy. I’m just curious of your thoughts about the role of military in creating change in society.
I’ll just say one thing about that because I could talk forever about this, but just look at the service academies, right? The service academies require, or the Congress people and senators get two nominations from each state. So, it’s engineered to ensure that people from Montana have representation at the service academies just the same as Maryland. I used to always tell students the easiest way to get into this Naval Academy is to move to Montana, [Laughter] but it’s absolutely true. It’s so competitive in this area. However, you could fill all the service academies with students that graduated from the DMV public schools in order to get representation. So, that is an experiment that has been going on and has been very successful throughout the history of the service academy. So, that’s one way that we can say, and I think that there’s other ways that we can lead the nation in the military.
I would just caution and always push back against the social experimentation, the red flag, because it’s often thrown out by retired and current generals as a way of saying, “Hey, I don’t like this, and therefore, we should take it off the table.” I just want to remind everybody of what happened with DADT, the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. There was a serious and sizable cohort of retired and even active generals who were insistent that it would destroy the force, that the military could not operate and function if we allowed the open service of homosexuals. They were categorically, unequivocally, undeniably absolutely wrong about the force they led. So, let’s be very clear, it’s always a delicate balance, but civilians absolutely must and should demand a seat at the table when you see your military doing things about how it recruits people, how it utilizes them, and when it starts doing it in ways that are completely foreign to American society, you absolutely have the right to step in and say this is not the way our military should be.
I would just add that you don’t want a military that becomes too different from the society around it. The founding fathers really genuinely worried about the risk a standing army would pose in a free society. The more different our military is from our broader American society, the more that is a legitimate and continuing concern. The good news is we do have a military that reflects American society, and that’s an enormous source of strength and vitality. If you want to see the difference, that inclusion and a belief that everybody who’s a patriot has something to contribute, look at the difference in performance between the Russian military and the Ukrainians right now, right? The Russians were supposed to be this big macho military, and they are getting their asses handed to them by the hairdressers and transvestites of Ukraine. [Applause]
I will just add a quick point because I know we’re going to audience questions here in a moment, but the military, in my opinion, is actually exceptionally well suited to be a place to integrate and to be on the vanguard of culture and social issues. It is a strong hierarchy. It’s filled with leaders who understand the art and science of leading people. There is nothing better at bringing people together than being united around a common purpose and a common mission, right? So, when I did my first deployment to Iraq, my soldiers were actually West Virginia National Guard’s guard soldiers, and I was an active-duty officer, right? So, I’m from California, 15 of the 16 soldiers were White, most of them were conservative. By the end of that year-long deployment, we were like family, and it was because we went through an exceptionally dangerous experience together, and we were united by the purpose of just bringing one another home, right? So, those types of things supersede anything that differentiates us from a political, from a background, from a where we’re from kind of perspective. So, I think the military is actually very well suited to do that, and I have a lot of faith that it will always be able to do that.
Theodore R. Johnson:
One little factoid before we go to questions. I recently read that in the Army in particular, behind White men relative to a group’s proportion in the population to their proportion in the military, the highest rate of new army enlistees, aside from White men, are Black women. So, again, if people want to suggest that telling the truth about our history will discourage people from wanting to serve, I don’t know too many folks that have a better reason not to serve than a Black woman in this country, and the fact that they are enlisting at higher rates than many others suggest to you that the love of country can be both critical as well as the kind of patriotism we’re used to seeing. Let’s go to the questions. Yes.
Okay. I think in the interest of time, I’ve chosen kind of the broadest question, or maybe it’s most specific. [Laughter] What are the structural changes that the military has to make to keep abreast with current society? So, maybe if everybody could identify one structural change that they think would move us closer to those ideals.
Theodore R. Johnson:
Well, Jason hit the one that resonates most for me, which is breaking the assumption that the service man or woman is the sole breadwinner in a family, and that the military doesn’t have to make accommodations of frequency of posting, of preference of posting to places where, for example, a spouse who’s a nurse wouldn’t have to get his license re-upped in a different way. Those kinds of structural barriers we should long ago have pushed past.
Theodore R. Johnson:
There’s a couple of others, going back to laws that are on the books. Some of the other things are things like the rule where you can only be commissioned for 30 years. So, when those laws were made, the life expectancy was 65, but now the life expectancy for women is 83. So, when I was forced to retire after 30 years of active commission service, I was like, “What am I to do for the next 25 years?” So, that’s one of them. So, re-looking at the laws on the books. Another thing that I was told by the Navy recruiters, and this was in 2012, they couldn’t recruit more than 16% women because of a law that was in place, or a rule that was in place about birthing – like where they live, not having babies – on the ships, right? When the senior leadership looks at me and goes, “Are you kidding?” I’m like, “That’s why you’re not getting more than 16% women.” So, that had to be changed as an instruction. If we go back and we look at all the instructions that we put out, the other thing is about women. We have this on ramp, off ramp thing, but the focus on things like childcare, it excludes those women that choose not to have children or are not married. Then the other thing about women is that we tend to be dual military couples. So, it is important that we can be co-located and that the spouse, male or female, can have their licenses or their certifications transferred, which I think…
Theodore R. Johnson:
That was Kori’s point. Yes.
I would probably add, from a structural change standpoint, I don’t know if it’s a structural change so much as it’s one of the greatest challenges I think our military is facing is military sexual trauma is the term that we use, but sexual assault and rape in the military. It is a huge issue. It’s a huge challenge. As a person who currently goes through the training that we do to address that, it doesn’t feel like we have it right. I know this is not a challenge that’s unique to the military. This is also true on our college campuses and in many other facets of society, but it is one of the things that I think has one of the most corrosive effects on a unit, on an individual service member, and is a challenge that we need to address head on in a new way.
Theodore R. Johnson:
I saw this morning that the Biden administration is actually looking at the UCMJ to revisit how sexual assault and sexual harassment can be prosecuted in the military. I guess the language as it presently exists isn’t strong enough to your point. Yes. Do we have time for questions? All done? All right. Very good. [Laughter] Thank you for being flexible with us and thank you for this conversation. Very much appreciate it and looking forward to the next speaker here. Thank you. [Applause] [Pause]
Please remain in your seats. The program will continue momentarily. [Audio Gap]
Ladies and gentlemen, those words came from James Weldon Johnson, who wrote Lift Every Voice and Sing. Thanks to President Truman, those words now can be the voice and hope for all Americans. I am Donald Scott, and I am a member of the Truman Library Directors, and I’m honored to be here to introduce our next speaker, General CQ Brown, Jr. Before I do that, I want to take this opportunity to say that as a recipient of President Truman’s order, I declare this the most significant event that represents civil rights that’s ever-taken place in America. [Applause] There are two reasons for that. First, this is the first time African American veterans have been honored in Washington DC for our patriotic service to Truman’s desegregate order before ’48, and then for our perseverance and commitment to making it work to the present.
Second, the Truman Library and Institute staff and directors are the first to host a national event that represents the president whose legacy they preserve. So, in that regard, Alex Burden, Kurt Graham and their small but superior staff, along with Clifton Truman Daniel, and the Board Chairman Clyde Wendel and Patrick Ottensmeyer worked tirelessly over two years to make this event happen. Your signature accomplishment, of course, was President Biden last night. Your second signature accomplishment is General CQ Brown, Jr. to be our closing speaker. Now, I’m proud to introduce the general, not only because he is a son of a friend. I know his parents. His father retired as a full-bird colonel from the United States Army, but I’m also proud to introduce him because he is the embodiment. He is the embodiment of the vision that President Truman had, I believe, when he created that order, because he knew the best and brightest would rise to the top to serve our nation.
General CQ Brown is the chief of staff of the Air Force. As chief of Air Force, he serves as a senior uniformed Air Force officer responsible for organizing, training, and equipping nearly 689,000 active-duty guard, reserve, and civilian forces in the United States and overseas. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is the adviser to the National Security Council and the president of the United States. General Brown was commissioned in 1984 as a distinguished graduate of their OTC program at Texas Tech University, and he has served in various positions at the squadron and wing levels. Notably, General Brown has commanded the Fighter Squadron, the US Air Force Weapons School, two fighter wings, US Air Force’s Central Command, and served as Deputy Commander, US Central Command. Now, prior to serving as the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Brown was the commander of Pacific Air Forces, the Air Component Commander for all US Indo-Pacific Command. General Brown is a command pilot with over 3000 flight hours and 130 of those hours in an F-16 in combat. He has also flown 20 additional fixed and rotary weighing aircraft. As we learned last night, President Biden on May the 25th nominated General Brown to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States of America. Please welcome General Brown. [Applause]
CQ Brown, Jr.:
Well, thank you and good morning. President Truman once said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Today we’re here to celebrate 75 years of progress, only possible because President Truman and his administration seized the opportunity to change things to make America better, an order that made it possible for ordinary Americans to have so many extraordinary opportunities. Thanks, General Scott, for the kind introduction. It’s an honor to have someone who knows my parents, someone who served with my father, to introduce me this morning. So, thank you so much, and my parents, I know, had a chance to talk to you here this past week. So, thank you.
I want to thank the Truman Library Institute and the opportunity for everyone that’s worked to make the Truman Civil Rights Symposium possible, and thank to all who have been in attendance, not just today, but over the course of the past three days to help us commemorate this momentous anniversary. You’ve had throughout the symposium be able to discuss the history of the executive order that people experienced that shaped the past 75 years. You discussed progress and highlighted opportunity, and you’ve sought answers to the question, wherever actions led us since the executive order and how we’ve come together to commemorate its signing. I was privileged to join you for last night’s program. It was simply spectacular. The many distinguished speakers including our president, a fabulous dinner, all the excellent conversation.
A few months ago, when I committed to speaking at the symposium, no one told me all that was going to happen before I had a chance to speak. [Laughter] So, there’s no pressure this morning to be the closing speaker, but I do hope that I can close this symposium and not disappoint. Today, I want to talk to you a bit about progress only possible due to ordinary Americans seizing opportunity and accomplishing the extraordinary. Since the founding of our great nation, our society has continually changed. In its infancy, America asserted that all men are created equal, but without years of progress, our society would not have met that reality. Progress is possible only due to the hard work and dedication of so many ordinary Americans. Executive Order 9981 signed 75 years ago was a major milestone in that progress. A milestone that marked a step in our nation’s history. A step towards, as the executive order states, equality of treatment and opportunity. A step at providing Americans no matter their race, color, religion, or national origin with the same opportunities to achieve the extraordinary. He gave African Americans opportunities so long denied, opportunities for all Americans to serve together the defense of our great nation. While Executive Order 9981 serves as a major milestone, it is joined by Executive Order 9980 and the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. All three together, signed by President Truman, created opportunities for ordinary Americans to accomplish the extraordinary. Sometimes, we may not see the extraordinary, but we can just look around, look in this very room to see what so many have accomplished. You must share the extraordinary stories so the next generation knows what is possible, what can be accomplished with the opportunities in front of them.
Today I’d like to do exactly that, share how we got here, share some of the stories of Americans who, because of this milestone, were able to accomplish extraordinary things. Now, two days ago, on the anniversary of Executive of 9981, I had a distinct honor to accept one of the only two remaining Stearman training aircraft that Tuskegee Airmen trained on during World War II. We were able to do that with a handful of documented original Tuskegee Airmen. It was a very, very special day for me personally and for United States Air Force. In fact, I mentioned there’s only two. The other one graces the halls of this very museum. Many of you may have already seen it today, or if you visited museum previously, but it has a very distinctive blue and yellow paint scheme, the one that we just accepted, that will end up at the National Museum of the United States Air Force has the exact same paint scheme. Now reflecting on that story, of that aircraft and accepting the aircraft made me realize how far we have come. The progress our society has made since the Tuskegee Airmen learned to conquer the skies. The story of that plane, of those airmen, of desegregation in the armed forces, there’s never a guarantee. It took extraordinary actions of two Americans and a chance meeting with a third, seizing opportunity to make it happen.
In 1939, two African American aviators, Dale White and Chauncey Spencer organized a goodwill flight from Chicago to Washington DC. Their mission was to court Congress and lobby for change in legislation that would allow African Americans to join the Army Air Corps. They flew from Chicago to Washington DC in a two-seater Lincoln PTK biplane. This biplane had a decade of wear and tear, and it was really brought to its breaking point, and they had very much difficulty from the very start of their flight making it to Washington DC. It was fraught with mechanical issues and technical delays, but through all that, they persevered, and they refused to give up, and they finally made it to Washington DC. While walking through the halls of Congress, they crossed paths with one senator. That senator was Harry S. Truman. Now, after hearing about the flight and being shown the worn-out biplane that brought them from Chicago, the senator from Missouri, the Show Me State, told them, “If you guys have the guts to fly that thing to Washington, I have the guts enough to see you get what you’re asking for.” True to his word, and I would say in a bit of foreshadowing, then Senator Truman helped write legislation to assure training for all Americans free of bias under the civilian pilot training program. By the end of that year, Congress passed a new civil pilot training program legislation, and this time with funding earmarked for flight training at historically Black colleges and universities, paving the way for the Tuskegee Airmen. Nine years after that chance meeting with Dale White and Chauncey Spencer, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981. It took two ordinary Americans, a chance encounter with a third to further progress seizing opportunity to make the extraordinary happen. Progress that set the stage for the Tuskegee Airmen and World War II. Progress driven further by 1.2 million African Americans who answered the call to serve their nation, all on segregated units. Some were to Tuskegee airmen, some were in the infantry and army units, but the vast majority served in support roles in transportation, in mess halls, as stewards on ships moving cargo and ports in non-combat roles. Matter of fact, my grandfather was among those moving cargo and ports, supervising 1500 men in the 576 Port Battalion loading and unloading ships in Hawaii and Saipan. He and all the other African Americans played a vital role in winning the war. Despite segregation, despite not having the same opportunities afforded to other Americans, when the nation called, they showed their patriotism, and they showed their worth.
World War II gave us the greatest generation. Ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things, taking advantage of new opportunities, opportunities long denied by barriers of segregation and discrimination. Because of ordinary Americans, progress was possible. Because of ordinary Americans, we can now celebrate Americans from all corners of our nation, coming together, bringing a rich diversity, serving our nation, and leading at the highest levels of government, working towards a promise codified in our nation’s founding documents.
The nation has seen Americans like Colin Powell, the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the first African American Secretary of State. The nation saw General Chappie James become the first African American four-star general in the United States Air Force, whose picture hangs just outside my office in the Pentagon. The nation that watched Michelle Howard, an Admiral in the United States Navy, become the first woman to command a US Navy ship, and the first to attain the four-star rank in the Navy and serve as the vice chief of naval operations, and a nation that has embraced our current Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III.
While we celebrate these many other leaders, Executive Order 9981 didn’t provide extraordinary opportunities for leadership only in the armed forces, all opportunities for Americans to serve and do great things beyond their service in uniform. Americans like the Honorable John Allen who went from attending segregated schools to flying fighter jets in Vietnam. He left the Air Force in 1973, gained a law degree, and rose to be a superior court judge serving for another 20 years. For growing up in a segregated school, disturbing his nation in and out of uniform, an ordinary American with extraordinary opportunities thanks to Executive Order 9981. Like Joseph Monroe, one of the first African Americans to earn a PhD in computer science and the first to be a full professor at the United States Air Force Academy. After his service, he became a distinguished college professor, giving back to historically Black colleges and universities. An ordinary American with extraordinary opportunity to educate the next generation all thanks to Executive Order 9981. Like Lonnie Johnson, an engineer who served in the Air Force and with NASA. Now, what he might be best known for after his service is when he invented the Super Soaker. [Laughter] Something that many of you may have experienced either soaking someone else or being soaked by his invention. He went on to have over 100 patents for revolutionary technologies. An ordinary American driving technology thanks to extraordinary opportunities only possible due to Executive Order 9981. Like Sharon Caples McDougle who joined the Air Force out of high school where she worked on the SSR71 and the U-2 pressure suits. After her service, she went on to NASA to work on spacesuits. There she would go on to manage the space shuttle crew escape equipment department until the program ended, suiting up notable African American astronauts, Mae Jemison, Charles Bolden, Frederick Gregory, and Dr. Bernard Harris. An ordinary American with an extraordinary opportunity to drive space exploration, opportunity made possible by Executive Order 9981.
These individuals are all ordinary Americans who had extraordinary opportunities, opportunities possible through the steps taken in 1948. Their stories and the stories of so many other Americans who served and went on to significant accomplishments are the real legacy of the Executive Order 9981. Teachers, doctors, scientists, leaders in business, nonprofit workers, community leaders and elected officials. Americans that have served and gone on to other careers that have shaped America and driven progress. Sometimes you don’t see it, but look around at what so many have accomplished. These are the examples for the next generation to follow. They inspire the next generation to take on the challenges of their own, to change things to make America better. To do that, they must hear, they must see, not just the ones highlighted here today, but the many ordinary Americans, they have extraordinary opportunities to do great things for our nation. They have to see it because I believe young people only aspire to be what they see. None of us decide to grow up to be something we’d never seen before. That we didn’t know anything about. It’s the reason I’m here today. I aspire to be what I could see.
When I was in high school, as was highlighted, my father is a retired army colonel. When I was in high school, my father said, “Four years in the military will not hurt you.” [Laughter] So, I’m at 38 and still counting. It was the aspect of he encouraged me because he had taught ROTC after his second tour in Vietnam. He talked to me about going to the military academy, and I told him, “Dad, I’m not that interested in the military.” That’s when I got the quote. He encouraged me to apply for ROTC scholarships to help pay my way through school. So, I did. I applied for all three Army, Navy, and Air Force. I got selected to go to interview for all three. I elected not to go to the Navy interview because I knew for a fact I did not want to be in the Navy. Ended up getting a scholarship in both the Air Force and the Army. I was pursuing a dual degree in architecture and civil engineering and knew I wanted to go back to Texas because I graduated from high school in Virginia. My dad knew how the assignment slot process worked in the Army. He said, “If you go Army, there’s no guarantee you’ll be an engineer. If you go Air Force, they’ll make you an engineer.” So, I went Air Force. I almost quit ROTC after my first semester. When I came home at Christmas and talked to my dad, he gave me some more advice. He says, “All you got to do is go to class and go to the lab,” and that’s what I did. I was on the drill team. Then I went to summer camp. We went down to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio and got a ride and a T-37, one of our trainer aircraft. You had the parachute, the helmet, you’re out doing acro. I go, “God, that was fun.” [Laughter] I’m pretty competitive. So, I looked around at the other people who had pilot slots, and I go, “God, if they can get one of those, I think I can get one.” So, that’s what happened. I got a pilot slot in my senior year.
So, the four years thing didn’t quite work out. I was planning on moving back to Texas and never did. Actually, I’ve never been assigned in Texas in my 38 career years. [Laughter] So, when I reflect on my career, I know I’ve been truly blessed. I’m very humbled when I’m out and about. It happened even to me at last night’s event. When people approach me and tell me that I’m an inspiration and what goes through my mind is, “Really? I’m just CQ Brown Jr.” I’m an ordinary American who has been provided extraordinary opportunities, opportunities provided by Executive Order 9981. They allowed me to be the first African American service chief in the history of our military, the 22nd chief of staff of the Air Force, and to be nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Remember, I was only going to do four years. [Laughter] So, I ask, who inspired you to select your chosen profession? For those who have served in uniform, who inspired you to join the armed forces? Who inspired you to serve and contribute to the greater good of our nation? More importantly, what are we all doing to inspire the next generation? We must show the next generation opportunities they have by sharing stories of those who doubt us here. Those who accomplish the extraordinary. Through stories like those shared during this symposium, we continue to inspire the next generation and further the legacy of change.
As this symposium comes to a close, we must reflect how far we’ve come as a nation. Major General James Hamlet, an infantry officer in the segregated 92nd Infantry Division in World War II, and an army aviator in Vietnam, said at his retirement ceremony, “When I entered the army, a Black man was not allowed to lead a squad to the latrine. We have come a long way.” We have come a long way indeed. Today, we celebrate progress only possible due to courageous leaders seizing the opportunity that made possible so many extraordinary achievements, many of them first. As we look forward, we must remember that progress is a constant in our free society. I hope that one day progress will mean that there’ll be no more firsts to be celebrated, that we all are all left celebrating each other’s achievements as fellow Americans. That future becoming a reality is in large part thanks to the opportunities unlocked 75 years ago. They ensure the next great generation will be stronger than the last because today, Americans from all backgrounds are working together to move our nation forward.
When this event is held 25, 50, 75 years from now, celebrating the hundred 150th anniversary, may we reflect on the progress we’ve continued to make. May we repeat the words of General Hamlet. We’ve come a long way because Executive Order 9981 made it possible for ordinary Americans to have so many extraordinary opportunities. Thank you for allowing me to be here as part of this historic symposium. It’s been my distinct honor. Thank you. Thank you very much. [Applause] [Audio Gap]
Clifton Truman Daniel:
See, this is what happens when you’re the last one up. Everybody leaves. [Laughter] Alex just asked me to say a few words at the end of this, and although as somebody said on the way out, how are you going to follow General Brown? Not going to be easy. But I will say that I have actually recently been the victim of a Super Soaker. [Laughter] It was a very weird and silly Masonic ritual. For anybody who thinks we’re going to take over the world, that is not happening. First of all, I want to thank you all for being here. Thank Pat and the board, Alex and the institute staff, Kurt and the library staff for putting together a truly extraordinary event. Michelle and Harvey asked me yesterday during the events, what is it like to be Harry Truman’s grandson? I don’t know any different. People do, I believe we call it geeking out. People geek out when you’re related to a president. But Presidents’ grandsons geek out in other directions. I’m here and I get to meet master chiefs, sergeant majors. I get to meet captains, colonels, admirals, generals. I benefit from DNA. They have worked and earned everything that they’ve gotten, and they are a shining example to the nation and to the world. I don’t think we can say it often enough. I’m enormously proud that my grandfather was able to open doors for them, but this country, the military was desegregated and this country will eventually catch up because of their work, because of their example. We cannot say that often enough, and we will continue to say it. Thank you all very much. [Applause]
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