For African-Americans in Uniform, It’s Duty, Honor, Country. But Don’t Expect to Lead.


WASHINGTON — A photograph of President Trump and his top four-star generals and admirals, tweeted in October by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, was meant as a thank-you to the commander in chief. But it angered a lot of others, and not just those who erupted on Twitter.

“You would have thought it was 1950,” said Lt. Col. Walter J. Smiley Jr., who is African-American and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring last year after 25 years in the Army. Dana Pittard, a retired major general, also African-American, was equally frustrated. “It’s America’s military,” he said. “Why doesn’t this photo look like America?”

Yet the picture of the president surrounded by a sea of white faces in full military dress is an accurate portrait of the top commanders who lead an otherwise diverse institution.

Some 43 percent of the 1.3 million men and women on active duty in the United States military are people of color. But the people making crucial decisions, such as how to respond to the coronavirus crisis and how many troops to send to Afghanistan or Syria, are almost entirely white and male.

Of the 41 most senior commanders in the military — those with four-star rank in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — only two are black: Gen. Michael X. Garrett, who leads the Army’s Forces Command, and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr, the commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, whose father is second-generation Japanese-American, leads the United States Cyber Command. The Army has sometimes counted Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the head of Africa Command and the son of a German mother and an Afghan father, as a minority commander. There is only one woman in the group: Gen. Maryanne Miller, the chief of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, who is white.

Helene Cooper

2020-05-25 03:00:19

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