WASHINGTON - Today's diversity in the Army and Air National Guard reflects the diversity of the communities its members serve and live in, the National Guard Bureau's equal opportunity and civil rights director said.
Felton Page added that gone are the days when an all-white Guard unit would go into a predominantly black neighborhood to maintain order, as during the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles.
"Look at the California Guard now, and you see some of its largest brigades commanded by minorities. "¦ It's representative of the community it's in. So, when you call out the Guard, the Guard looks like us," Page said.
The Army Guard has more than 19 percent minorities among its ranks today, and the Air Guard has more than 17 percent.
Although some states were slow to adopt President Harry S. Truman's federal policy of "equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin," it eventually changed the face of the National Guard, Page said.
Guard leaders joined the other military services and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon today for a 60th anniversary celebration of Truman's executive order.
"Today we understand," Page said. "We see the benefit of our diverse military."
In 1972, Page -- the Guard's first black equal opportunity director -- attended one of the military's first equal opportunity courses at what was then called the Defense Race Relations Institute, now called the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Since then, the military's approach to diversity has grown from reactive race relations to a proactive force that promotes equal and fair treatment, he said.
"We did race relations back then. "¦ That school was born from having to react to racial issues that affected combat readiness," he said. "Now, we understand that you have to do proactive work."
Page's office here is a focal point for the Guard's diversity policies and oversight in all equal opportunity, equal employment opportunity and community outreach programs with minority organizations. "We are working on programs and issues all the time," said Jacqueline Ray-Morris, the office's minority college outreach manager.
Today, diversity is much more than putting out equal opportunity fires and complaints, she said. Promoting diversity, Ray-Morris travels to historically black, Latino and other minority colleges. During those visits, she speaks with students about careers available in the Defense Department, not only in the military, but also in civil service.
Ray-Morris also is the first African-American woman to serve as committee chair for the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit organization named after the nation's first black airmen to serve in the Army Air Force.
"We go out and work collaboratively in all areas of the community," Ray-Morris said. "We also furnish the tools you need that prevent sexual harassment -- the tools to ensure you adhere to policies, programs and guidelines."
Page agreed and added that the anniversary of Truman's order should be a celebration of doors opening and of the opportunity to fight side by side.
"Before those orders, there were those who said blacks did not have the ability to fly an aircraft, but the Tuskegee Airmen proved that theory wrong," he said. "Gone are those days when a person is told they cannot obtain, cannot achieve."